JToday, let’s talk about features.
No, not the ones on your face, but the ones in the media that now feature (pardon the pun) more prominently at ThePrint.
There’s a reason why “features” in journalism refer to a particular type of writing, otherwise known as “the long form.” In good feature articles, authors use their sensory perceptions to tell you a story. So you see problems in 3D perspective (honestly), you hear many differing opinions, you smell contradictions, lies, even truth, smell a rat if there is one, and sometimes even taste mangoes of the screen—although, as this story tells you, there is something “rotten” about this year’s harvest.
In feature films, the goal is to tell stories, the stories of our lives; the trick is to tell them well. At ThePrint, we are increasingly interested in telling such stories.
What kind of stories? Let me give you a random sample of features ThePrint has done over the past few months. First, there is a battle raging between Hindus and Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir over the Kashmiri language written in Devanagari instead of Nastaliq.
In Sri Lanka, the rich waste their time and money, but the poor who gamble daily have nothing to give their children.
As “black magic” casts its spell on Indians, villagers in Jewar, Uttar Pradesh, where the next major international airport looms, have been sidelined with broken promises. Young men aspiring to join the army across Rajasthan and Haryana are ‘running for their lives – and out of time’, in a last-ditch effort to join the forces and young Hindu men of Jahangirpuri in Delhi, torn by community riots, take inspiration from social media on ‘how to save Hindus’. If there was a fascinating excavation of the past, 4,200 years ago, to be more precise, in Tamil Nadu, there is a disappointing “shrinkage” in present-day India, because your package favorite cookie just got smaller.
These long articles, usually between 1,500 and 2,000 words, appear on ThePrint throughout the week. Not all top-notch writing or storytelling, but still interesting.
Why should they be written? Like I said, they’re interesting – hatke – hopefully well-researched and well-written, and because news stories don’t have time. News stories are in a rush to tell you “what” is going on, news stories can’t stop explaining how the news is unfolding on the ground, what each of the above is trying to do.
Also, mainly due to TV and social media, news has been reduced to a binary of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ there is no room for nuance, no ifs and buts – either you believe there is a mandir buried inside Gyanvapi, or you insist that it is a masjid. But if we dig deeper, we understand why both sides can be right and wrong.
That’s what good news stories do: they uncover what is often embedded in the news.
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India was once obsessed with features
Feature articles are not a new idea – in the 20th century (sounds old!) newsmagazines were all the rage in India, especially between the 1970s and 1990s, the glory days.
There was India Today, Bombay, Sunday, Imprint, Debonair, Gentleman, to name a few, and Sunday newspaper supplements. In addition, two Sunday newspapers, Sunday Observer and Sunday Mail, devoted space to political and lifestyle articles.
Unfortunately, the growth and spread of mass media and 24×7 cable TV killed the appetite for long writing – and when the internet and social media took over our lives in the middle of this century , a 500-word report was considered long by editors and readers.
Ironically, the internet, which had spurred the rise of instant news, also breathed new life into feature writing by providing unlimited space – now you can type until your fingernails fall out.
And the advantage is that you can write different types of articles on any subject from A to Z: news articles, articles on lifestyle, articles on culture, sports, trends social, science (“Pure Science” at ThePrint is basically an article), and even esoteric topics like ergonomics or, say, hippotherapy.
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ThePrint pays attention to detail
Okay, but why is ThePrint, a niche news portal that focuses on news and “analysis, opinion on politics, politics, governance, economics, education, defense and culture”, care about features? The simple answer is two-fold, because readers want to understand the contested times we live in and because ThePrint is on a mission to explain the news.
It doesn’t always tell you “what” is going on, but it will try to spell out the “how”, the “why” and the “next step”. At a time when the past weighs so heavily over the present, I like to think that at ThePrint it’s not just about capturing instant updates, but capturing the sum of their meaning.
This means digging deeper into a topic, looking at granular details, going back in history, perhaps taking the road less traveled and discovering unique examples of how politics, politics or current affairs are playing out on the ground.
This is another reason why features are a logical step for ThePrint – it invests considerable effort in field reporting, that too across the country. So, the stories mentioned above are from different regions and even countries. From Sri Lanka in the south to Jammu and Kashmir in the north, journalists travel far and wide to see how the land is.
This is where politics is explained through individuals, where mobile addiction explains youth unemployment, and where social change manifests itself in kickboxing.
The features are the prologue and the epilogue – they are written to explain what happened before and may happen after an event has taken place. This is why ThePrint has a section called ‘PastForward’. It will allow you to see last year’s farmers’ protests from the fields of the green revolution or see burning buildings in Delhi and other cities through the smoke still rising from the cinematic tragedy of ‘Uphaar in 1997.
At its heart, good reporting forces journalists to reinvent themselves, to move from news reporting to in-depth reporting. For the first five years of my career, I was a feature writer, so I kinda know the degrees of difficulty here – writing feature films requires rigor, time and hard work, heaps of patient listening, sourcing, reading and fact-checking plus meeting people, people and more people. And oh yes, a sense of history wouldn’t be out of place.
But above all, you have to know how to write well and combine lightness of touch with depth of substance – you don’t have to be frivolous, but you don’t have to be boring either. This is the huge challenge that ThePrint continues to face.
Reporters still learn from editors to improve their writing; meanwhile, the editorial team deserves a special mention for the care and attention they lavish on these articles – their efforts have made these articles so much more readable. And we should lend a helping hand to photographers whose images often tell stories more poignantly than words.
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ThePrint’s “soft power”
There’s another category of stories for readers whose dil eats more than ThePrint’s super-specialty stuff on strategic business, politics, and the like.
This is what I call the “soft power” of ThePrint. And that comes from the decision to carry reviews of movies, TV shows and streaming channels – not only of the latest releases from Bollywood-Hollywood, but also from other parts of the country and with a star rating system .
Additionally, there are automated agency feeds from ANI and PTI, with plenty of entertainment reporting.
Don’t forget the ‘PoV’ section under Opinion where young reporters share their views, often on social media or cultural trends, or the dear old ‘Brandma’ wandering down memory lane. In addition, ThePrint features a column by respected automotive journalist, Kushan Mitra, who writes “Dashboard”, and a trained dietician, Subhasree Ray, who contributes to the nutrition column.
‘Page Turner’ offers excerpts from the most recent works of fiction and non-fiction on the market. And for sports fans, ThePrint is now playing catch-up, with more coverage of all the games Indians play.
These reports or stories usually appeal to young readers and are already gaining traction. For example, ThePrint’s review of the movie Anek was quoted on Wikipedia, which isn’t a badge of honor, but it is read.
Personally, I couldn’t be happier as I love cinema, cricket (other sports) and cars. However, a small Doubting Thomas voice inside me asks – are we diluting the essence of ThePrint? Are we spreading ourselves too thin? Are we trying to be everything for all readers rather than a targeted and specialized news portal?
Shailaja Bajpai is ThePrint’s Readers’ Editor. Please write with your opinions, complaints to [email protected]