Analysis of Profile/ Feature Writing

By Daniel Temple

September 14, 2008

Sometimes in journalism, the most insightful and meaningful stories do not originate from hard news.  In fact, over the years, many entertaining yet effective pieces have been written as a profile or feature story. 

This type of writing is unique because it allows the reader to gain an insightful perspective on another person and their lifestyle.   Often times, it is a different side of the news that people rarely see.

These 5 examples of profile/feature writing embody the essence of what a quality piece in this genre should look like.  Each one, through vivid descriptions and intricate storytelling, weaves a tale that is remarkable and yet relatable to the reader. 

The Umpire’s Sons

By Lisa Pollack

Winner, Pulitzer Prize- Feature Writing, 1997

Pollack takes an in-depth look at a Major League umpire who is struggling with a son who has a rare disease. 

Upon reading this article, it is evident why Pollack was chosen for the illustrious Pulitzer Prize.  The article first selects a topic for discussion that is interesting and unique.  A professional baseball umpire is exciting to the reader.  It is a job that not many people have, but millions recognize.  It is an enviable profession as umpires get to be a part of hundreds of exciting games and meet major league super-stars on a daily basis. 

However, Pollack makes the circumstances of umpire John Hirschbeck less appealing and thus more relatable, with the story of his son suffering from a rare disease called ALD.  As Pollack tells about the ordeals that the Hirschbeck family has had to go through, the reader obtains insightful knowledge into the life of a major league umpire and a father with a sick son. 

The piece does an excellent job of taking a figure in society that is often thought of as “just an umpire” and showing that he is indeed human just like the rest of us.  This is an important part of feature writing.  To analyze the lives of people that we think of in just a professional sense, and showing the human side of their lives.  

Crime Scene

By Angelo B. Henderson

Winner, Pulitzer Prize- Feature Writing, 1999

This article describes the circumstances revolving around a 1997 Detroit shooting at a local drug store.

What makes this story so captivating is the manner in which it is told.  Rather than profile a single person, the story takes a look at several key individuals who were involved in the tragic Detroit shooting. 

This technique causes the reader to sympathize with all who were involved.  It doesn’t cast heroes and villains and it doesn’t commend or condemn the actions that were taken.  Instead it attempts to accurately portray the nature of these people and allow the reader to consciously formulate their own opinions on the matter. 

Henderson does a good job of building up the characters before he intertwines them all together.  This is another effective technique of feature/profile writing.  To take multiple characters and weave them together in order to tell a story. 

A Wicked Wind Takes Aim

By Julia Keller

Winner, Pulitzer Prize- Feature Writing, 2005

A look at how a brief tornado impacted the lives of several individuals in a small town in Illinois.

Keller’s article is worth mentioning because she manages to create suspense and action of out an event that took place over the course of about 10 seconds. 

The piece starts off with average, ordinary people in an average, ordinary situation.  This is important because it allows the reader to relate to the characters in the story.  However it is the extraordinary event that that makes this article interesting. 

Keller does an excellent job of highlighting a number of different characters in a common situation.  She uses a meteorologist as a credible weather source along with several citizens of the town in order to relate to any number of readers.  But it is how she weaves them all together that makes the story so fascinating.

Another interesting note is how Keller manages to capture her audience so intensely.   The reader finds themselves concentrating solely on the people in the story, rather than the tornado.  A critical aspect of profile/feature writing is people and it is important to realize that no matter what the story is, it should never be bigger than then the people involved with it. 

A Father’s Pain, a Judge’s Duty, and a Justice beyond Their Reach

By Barry Siegel

Winner, Pulitzer Prize- Feature Writing, 2002

A Utah man faces criminal charges of negligence over the death of his 3 year-old son

This article, like the 1999 piece by Angelo B. Henderson, does an excellent job of outlining the characters involved without passing judgment or leading the reader in a certain direction.  It simply portrays the nature of each character and allows the reader to come to their own conclusion in the wake of the court ruling.

A part of good feature story writing is to report on aspects of normal life that intrigue us as a society.  The court room is an excellent setting for a feature story because it literally maps out the action with the defense, prosecution and ultimate verdict.  It uses ordinary citizens which allow it to be relatable.  It also takes a situation that is frightening and tragic yet possible for millions of readers. 

Siegel moves the story along with sensations of anticipation.  After every paragraph he leaves the reader wondering what will happen next.  There are a number of conclusions that the reader wants to arrive at, including, the fate of the son, the fate of the father and the effect on the Judge.  Instead of simply revealing the outcome of it all, Siegel continuously builds the action by hanging the story in suspense.  This is of course helpful in feature writing as often times, the reader will already be aware of the outcome of the story.  Yet it is important to find ways to keep the suspense and thus keep the audience reading. 

Pearls before Breakfast

By Gene Weingarten

Winner, Pulitzer Prize- Feature Writing, 2008

A world class violinist poses as a street performer in a Washington subway station.

This of course is another example of feature writing in which the author takes something extraordinary and brings it down to the level of normalcy.  However in this case, Weingarten accomplishes the task quite literally and the reports on it. 

What makes this article great is the idea.  To take a world class violinist and have him play in a subway is both cunning and brilliant.  It is unique because Weingarten, rather than looking for the inner story, went out and made his own story. 

Of course there are still necessary techniques that must be used.  Weingarten does an excellent job of profiling characters and then analyzing how the event played out.  But it was the original idea that brings this piece into elite status.  Often times with feature writing, it is better to go out and create the story rather than search for a less interesting approach. 

Weingarten also does a fantastic job of setting up his experiment and then following it with his analysis of the conclusion.  He still maintains the fundamental principle of people being the most important aspect of feature writing, but really allows his characters to shine in a fantastic arranged setting.    

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One Comment on “Analysis of Profile/ Feature Writing”

  1. andersj Says:

    I like how you established a nice layout/organization for your analyses.

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