Hard news stories that give readers the facts about crimes, house fires, government actions and accidents are often considered the "real news," but "soft" stories -- those that are based on people, ongoing activities or situations, or broader trends -- can be just as compelling and helpful to people in their everyday lives. A good "soft" feature story draws the reader in emotionally while conveying clear, accurate information.
Writing Your Introduction
Soft news might be a story about a school program, a profile of a notable person or organization, or a human interest piece giving local insight into a social issue, but it may often be more relevant to readers' lives than a story about an accident or the arrest of an accused criminal. Unlike a hard news story, in which the first paragraph must contain the who, what, where, when, and why, a soft news story can begin with a paragraph crafted to hook the reader and draw him in:
"If you've visited downtown Kingston in the last few years, you may have noticed that it lacked a central place to go for information. Pat Smith had the same experience as a newcomer. 'I wanted to find out which restaurants did birthday parties, but I had to go home and make a ton of phone calls,' she says. Smith decided to make a few more phone calls, and today visitors are greeted by the newly opened Tourism Center."
The All-Important "Nut Graf"
Your opening can be more literary or conversational, but within the first three paragraphs you want to include a "nut graf" that gets the reader up to speed on the five basic Ws:
"The Visitor's Center, which held its ribbon-cutting last week, is located in the former Armory building at 235 Broadway. Four days a week, from Thursday through Sunday, an all-volunteer staff will be on hand to answer visitors' every question. The center is being managed by Mayor Jones' office, and is funded by the Community Development Corporation."
Soft News Writing Tips
Hard news is written in a very specific style, sticking strictly to the facts and avoiding poetic language or metaphor. Soft news allows the writer more room for creativity. Start by asking yourself what someone with no knowledge about your topic needs to know, and be certain to include that information.
Make sure everything in your story is absolutely factual, but don't be afraid to use anecdotes, look for quirky angles to highlight and include detail that brings your story to vivid life. Find out who is doing what, the forces that drive them, and how the situation feels, sounds, looks and smells on the ground. Take the reader on a voyage of discovery.
Concluding a Soft News Story
Wrap the essential information into a tidy package for your reader. You can use a more literary form here too, with an anecdote or quote:
"Smith now works two shifts a week at the center she helped create. Today, she's already helped a job seeker find public transportation and given a young man suggestions for romantic dates. 'I remember how stuck and lost I felt,' she says. 'I wanted to make sure no one else had to feel that way, ever again.' Thanks to her efforts and the cooperation of city agencies, that problem would appear to be solved."
Make sure your reader has the information she needs and knows where to access more on the subject. This can often be done with an italicized sentence following the end of your story, rather than within it: "The Visitor's Center is open Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. For more information, call (xxx)xxx-xxxx or visit www.website.org."
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