Who says you can't make news features more colorful? I always enjoy a newspaper story that presents the facts...but with the three-dimensional ambiance of all the characters and locations involved. I hope I'm saying that right to make my point.

At any rate,
Susan Beam, a journalist for the Columbia Ledger weekly newspaper, says it better than I in this article she contributed to Suite101.com:

When a person thinks of newspaper article, without fail, it is understood that they contain the five W's and 1 H - the who, what, when, where, why, and the how. A hard news story, absolutely, should include these things without any distraction. However, in a feature news story, a writer has a chance to infuse the story with facts that may help the story come alive.

Speaking from personal experience, I always thought creative writing had very little to do with newspaper articles. When I became an intern at a newspaper and went out on my first stories, I would bring back articles that were factually correct pieces of writing, but unbelievably boring. Fortunately, my editor pulled me aside and had a talk with me about how incorporating little bits of creativity that would make my story interesting while still being able to present relevent facts. The following are examples that I have come across in my career as a newspaper reporter.

In the Lead

Oh, the lead, the fabulous home of the five H's and 1 W, where are information is crammed at the expense of the rest of the story. For a hard news story, fine. But for a feature, doing that may detract from the rest of the story. For my feature stories, I wanted to write leads that would catch attention, that would make the reader read past the first paragraph of my story. The most notable example I can remember involved a story published in the Coatesville Ledger in September, 2008, where I called area church leaders and got their opinion/experience with the increase of members wearing casual clothes to Sunday worship. This was my first lead:

"According to area church leaders, there is an overwhelming increase in the number of people who are wearing jeans, T-shirts, and other casual attire to Sunday worship."

Factually correct...and very boring. After much thought, this became my lead.

"In a 1945 edition of Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell published a famous painting of a family headed to church, all dressed in their Sunday finery. In the same painting today, the family may be dressed in T-shirts and jeans, as area churches report a rise in casual clothing during services."

Is it clumsy? Maybe. Is it long? Well...yes. But my editor loved it, because it caught his attention and got him interested in my story.

The Article Body

There are lots of places within an feature article body to add a few words which will better illustrate the article's idea. For example, outside a town meeting where new town legislation was introduced, I stood talking to a man who clearly was unhappy with the new ideas. I quoted him. My original quote read:

"I don't think this will work," said resident Johnson. "We don't have the money."

However, when I was taking notes, I noted that he had been smoking a cigar during the interview. Thus, I rewrote that statement to read:

"I don't think this will work," said resident Johnson, while taking a drag off his cigar. "We don't have the money."

Both were factually correct, but my second quote was much more colorful and interesting.

My editor used to say that being creative did not mean having to write fiction, and in my experience, he was correct. Others may disagree, and that's fine, but I find a greater freedom and enjoyment of writing feature articles when I could take the facts and still present them in a way that was interesting to my readers.