Humorous, serious and feature articles
Posted on July 2nd, 2016

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

It does not mean to say there aren’t many successful humorous article writers at all (continuing from the thread on ‘humorous articles and humourist writers’ in my previous column), but those are experienced journalists who have gone through the journalistic ‘mill’. Perhaps they might have started as cub reporters or cartoonists in provincial papers, tabloids or magazines and contributed the occasional factual article and become exposed as experienced journalists on how to write a factual article technically, before embarking on humorous type.

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Amitha Abeysekera

I am reminded of my good friend, the late Amitha Abeysekera, who became popular as a cartoonist towards the end of his teaching career, attached to “The Island” newspapers with his daily cartoons for a number of years continuously under the heading: “This is my Island“. He later spent six months in London, after visiting his daughter, when he was able to display his refracted talents in satirical pieces and proved himself with a new series under the topic of ‘Godaya from London’ by concentrating on factuality, from his own observations and experiences in London with a mixture of wit thrown in. The most serious article he ever published was an excellent piece in the form of an eulogy to his dear wife when her life was taken away on a Sri Lankan road by an 18-year-old driver.

This goes to prove that it does not necessarily mean to deter those who feel they have a genuine humorous way with words from trying a hand in that field, but they are meant as a guideline to the path of success in that sphere which is much more difficult than those who are in the field of the straightforward, factual article writers. All in all, the best option would be to master the basic principles of writing.

Wisest Endeavour

It would, therefore, be the wisest endeavour to a budding journalist at first to concentrate on informative articles, clearly and without convolution. In this instance the writer has to be aware of his / her facts and not wholly made up of what he has taken the trouble to find out. Journalists are basically persons who satisfy other peoples’ curiosity, but they need to satisfy first their own, to find out the answers to the questions they and their readers are asking.

In journalism it is important for every journalist to bear in mind that people largely are more interested in people than in things, and they are still more interested in things than in abstract ideas. For example, people would be interested in reading an article written about a popular President of a country who has promised the nation a ‘just governance’ but not many would be interested in an article dealing with the plane he travels in, whether he travels economy or first class, whether he chose the national carrier or an international airline but many would be interested in an article exploring the philosophy of the politician and to what extent he is prepared to discharge his duties, obligations and promises he has made before getting elected to the hot seat.

When a journalist attempts to discuss things, ideas and people, it is possible to break down the feature articles into perhaps a dozen or more different types viz:

  • The smouldering topic feature
    • The anniversary feature
    • The personality feature
    • The place feature
    • The magazine feature
    • The news feature

News features

As the name implies it is concentrated on current news and topics which are focused as headlines. The most feature articles in newspapers are news features but rarely found in magazines due to the obvious reason being the time factor, which is always against the magazine catching the topical moment. For example, let’s take a news report that flashes in a newspaper, say on a Monday. A magazine will be able to publish it on Saturday and the magazine technically will hit the news-stand only on Monday. By that time the ‘hot news’ may have dropped right out of the headlines completely. When it comes to a monthly or quarterly magazine the situation becomes even worse. This makes a clear-cut example of ‘closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.’

Therefore, a journalist who has an intention of getting a news feature published, he certainly needs to think in terms of the newspaper as a market for such news. However, it is important to note that a ‘news feature’ is not a news report. It will contain the amplified version of the news with a bit of dressing up and meat added to it which is new and / or unusual and delving more deeply into the background of the subject.

For example, supposing at a political news conference, a politician makes a damning speech condemning the mountains of garbage piled up in a conurbation and alleging the government or municipality’s inefficiency or lackadaisical approach to the problem which, as a consequence poses a positive danger to health of the residents in the area. Like what happened during the recent floods, the speech clearly would be reported under big headlines in all the national newspapers. However, that report will go only a part of the way towards satisfying the readers’ curiosity as this is a matter which could affect every single man, woman, and child in the whole area.

It cries out to ‘look more deeply into the problem’, which is where the feature-writer steps in. He has to find out what is the true situation about the town’s garbage dumping operation which causes such heaps and mountains of rubbish on a daily basis. Are the politician’s allegations wholly true or partly true? Or are they false? When did such dumping operations start? What option is there to rectify such unhealthy situations and pollution of the environment? What does the Public Health Officer /DMO/ Public Health Engineer have to say about the allegation, especially being a health hazard to thousands of residents living in the area?

If the feature writer makes his piece of writing in a clear, concise and readable style in a fashion that would prompt an enquiry with the answers to the questions and problems raised, then he would certainly have a sound and a saleable news feature article.

The writer holds a PhD in Philosophy of Media Communication 

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