How to write outstanding feature style news stories?

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As the print media faces ever stiffer competition from other sources of news, feature stories are becoming more common as they can be more engaging to read.

At many newspapers, news stories are sometimes written in “feature style,” adopting some of the conventions of feature writing while still covering breaking events.

Wire services such as the Associated Press, which previously made a point of distributing only news, now also include feature stories.

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The Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing is awarded annually for a distinguished example of feature writing in an American newspaper or magazine, giving prime consideration to high literary quality and originality.

A good writer can often develop a good feature from a news event. Many good features can be developed from these areas, including trends in sports, or other topics in sports.

An example of a trend in sports might be the latest in exercise techniques. A topic story might be baseball card trading. Equally important is the significance of human events. How can this be applied?

On October 30, 1993, Wisconsin defeated Michigan 13-10 at Madison. At game’s end, hundreds of Badger fans rushed the field; many were crushed against chain link fences. By the thinnest margin, no one was killed. Dozens were rushed to area hospitals.

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Here is Pete Dougherty’s story, filed on the Gannett News wire. This is how the news story appeared the next day, in The Houston Post.

The 18-year-old was at the front of a mob of students trying to rush onto the field Saturday to celebrate after Wisconsin had defeated Michigan 13-10 at Camp Randall Stadium.

Hundreds of Wisconsin students were about to get wedged into the fence and railings designed to keep fans from the football players.

She barely escaped onto the field before the mass squeezed against the chain-link fence. The fence bent and swayed and part eventually broke, but not until nearly squeezing the life out of several young people, their faces becoming blue, or even worse, ashen.

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“I sat and watched people get crushed and there was nothing I could do,” Amato said.

University of Wisconsin security chief Susan Riseling said about 75 people were injured when approximately 12,000 spectators scrambled out of five student sections.

Reports from the city’s three hospitals about three hours later showed 64 people were examined or treated. Seven victims were considered in critical condition.

The inclined tunnel that leads the players in and out of Camp Randall has metal railings in cement that don’t move. The 10-foot wide track between the stands and the field was temporarily blocked; the swinging gates, meant to keep the fans from the players, were fastened back so the teams could leave.

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But that’s right where the Wisconsin students sit, and they wanted on the field to celebrate the Badgers’ big victory.

The ones who made it were fine, and there were hundreds of them, hugging players and each other, reveling in the win.

The ones, who didn’t, the couple hundred tucked in the corners around the tunnel, were in trouble. They got wedged between the fence, the railings, and the thousands of people pushing toward the field.

“I said, ‘Open the gate let them out-they’re going to die,'” Amato said. “(The guard) said, ‘I can’t, there’s football players coming.’ I said, ‘Would you rather have people die?'”

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By the time the gate was opened, a couple minutes later, it was too late for many. Many in the first five or 10 rows were too wedged and tangled to move.

“They were trampled on top of each other and bent over the stands,” said lineman Joe Panos, who helped clear the pile. “I thought they were gone.”

“One girl just about died in his arms,” teammate Yusef Burgess said. “A lot of people were seeing things they’ve never seen before. Seeing people’s faces turn blue, that’s not a sight you want to remember.” (pp. Bl, B7)

How can a feature story be developed from this news story? By understanding the significance of human events.

By November 2, Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune completed a follow-up story on that disaster. He focused on Michael Brin, a sophomore walk-on quarterback player for the Badgers. Brin was so far down the Wisconsin depth chart “he didn’t even have his own number.”

Sherman’s story was published in the Houston Chronicle under the headline:

Brin, a wide receiver from Highland Park, 111, is so far down on Wisconsin’s depth chart that last week’s program listed him as a quarterback. A sophomore walk-on, Brin doesn’t even have his own number.

Most Badgers fans know No. 3 as starting cornerback Kenny Gales. Brin, though, also wears No. 3, and that was the only number that mattered to Aimee Jansen.

Jansen found herself pinned up against a fence Saturday in the terrifying aftermath of Wisconsin’s game with Michigan. She was caught in the crush of fans who tried to storm the field, and it got to the point where she couldn’t breathe.

Then she saw “a No. 3” in a Badgers uniform that pulled her by the pant leg and hoisted her over the fence to safety.

Monday, Jansen had to find No. 3. “I just wanted to say thank you, thank you very much,” said Jansen, a sophomore from Antigo, Wis.”He saved my life.”

Brin didn’t get into one play Saturday in Wisconsin’s 13- 10 victory over Michigan, but no Badger shined more. Brin’s quick actions also are being credited with helping revive two other students who stopped breathing, one of whom he gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

On Monday Brin suddenly finding himself in the spotlight, being called a hero. “The only reason why they’re saying I’m a hero is because I was wearing pads. I don’t feel like a hero;” Brin said. “I feel like a guy who did the normal thing and reacted when he saw trouble.”

Authorities are crediting the actions of Brin and others with helping to avert a full-blown tragedy. An estimated 69 people were injured when 12,000 Wisconsin students cascaded from the stands toward the field.

Seven people initially were listed in critical condition, but as of Monday evening, eight people remained hospitalized, five in good condition and three in fair.

Those figures are remarkable considering what the scene looked like Monday. The northeast corner of Camp Randall Stadium was strewn with twisted pieces of fence and railings.

The weight of the people was enough to lift 6-inch bolts out of the concrete.

Witnesses described students being buried as much as 10 people deep. The injuries included broken limbs and extreme loss of oxygen.

“We’re lucky, because it could have been much worse,” Wisconsin Chancellor David Ward said. “We’re fortunate we had so many people step up and help out.”

Brin said he normally is one of the first players in the locker room, but he lingered on the field. As he walked toward the tunnel, he noticed a huge surge.

“That’s when I saw the girl,” Brin said. “She was folded over a fence.”

Brin pulled out Jansen, and then he noticed a couple of girls weren’t breathing. He quickly went over to one of them and started to apply mouth-to-mouth. He did it only briefly, “but it got her breathing.”

Brin, a premed student, isn’t certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but he applied the lessons he learned in a high school health class. As for the other girl, he helped move her over to a bench and assisted in stabilizing her.

“It was a shock,” Brin said. “Nobody expected it. You just acted on instinct.”

One of the women who stopped breathing also tried to get in touch with Brin Monday. Brin wasn’t sure of her name, but the memory of her face on Saturday hadn’t left him. He desperately wanted to see the woman again.

“When I saw her, she was blue in the face,” Brin said. “I have to see her cheeks all rosy red. I have to see it for myself.”

Brin said he spent a depressing Saturday night, but his spirits brightened Sunday when he learned all the injured people were improving.

“It’s a great feeling knowing a girl might be breathing because of me,” he said.

He isn’t likely to get close to the field for Saturday’s game against Ohio State. He has been in only one play all season.

However, Brin’s football skills didn’t matter Saturday. He always will be remembered for what he did after the game.

“I haven’t changed,” Brin said. “I’m not a hero. I’m just Mike Brin.”

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