FINDING YOUR BEAT
When people become journalists, they don’t write about everything under the sun, they usually develop a “beat,” meaning they focus on a specific topic that they are uniquely qualified to write about. This is their “beat.” Then, when magazines need someone to write about coffee or hip-hop or the Bronx, they will look for writers who have expertise on those subjects.
In this unit, you will find your own specific beat, a subject where you can showcase your unique experience and knowledge. You will write a well-researched feature article (see handout “What is a Feature Story?” below) for a magazine or newspaper that narrows in on some specific aspect of this subject. Tell your audience something they didn’t know before and make them think about the subject in a whole new way! 1400-1600 words.
How does a person find their beat? There isn’t only one answer. Your beat is something you either know a lot about or you have a lot of connections to (meaning, if you need to, you could get good interviews.) For example, if you’re a skateboarder, your beat might be the skate community. You could write stories for skate magazines, but you could also write stories explaining skateboarding for an audience of non-skateboarders. Your beat doesn’t have to be a community you are a part of, though. It can also be something you know a lot about. You might read a lot of history books– and your beat might be putting current events in an historical perspective. We’ll work together as a class to find YOUR beat. This will be fun for you to write, and engaging for your readers to read.
Your beat is a subject that fits you, something that makes you shine. But your feature article also needs a specific subject that will be interesting to your audience. That is to say, every beat has a million stories in it! There are people whose whole career is writing articles about coffee (What’s the best coffee shop in Brooklyn? Queens? What’s the best way to make coffee at home? And on and on!) Once you’ve found your beat, you’ll need to figure out what specific story you want to tell about it. You can’t tell us the whole history of skateboarding, but you can talk about how 13-year-old girls are suddenly winning gold medals in the Olympics, which could lead into an interesting article about the changing role of gender in sports like these.
An important note: You will be doing research in this article. That is, you may know a lot about music or coffee or skateboarding, but your expertise here means that you have a good “in” to find out more, not that you are the final authority! This is not a place for you just to write what you know, but a place for you to build on what you know and what you are interested in!
- AUDIENCE AWARENESS: Who are you trying to reach with this article? Are you using the right diction, publication, sources and arguments to reach this audience?
- PURPOSE: Is it clear to your readers what your main point is? Why it is important? Why is is important NOW?
- RESEARCH: Even though your beat is your specialty, there is always more to learn– through reading, interviews, walking around the neighborhood, watching YouTube Videos, making phone calls and so on. Having a beat means you know where to look for that research. It means you have connections. It does not mean you just write about your own experience. So, did you dig deep in your research and find relevant and credible sources? Does your research reflect a thorough understanding of the problem you are trying to impact? How were you able to integrate this research into your own article and argument? You must do research in this assignment!
- Organization and analysis: Is the piece well-organized, with clear, thought-out points that are backed up by information and explanation?
- Sentence-level: Can your reader understand what you are saying without distraction? Is the writing enjoyable to read?
- 1400-1600 words
WHAT IS A FEATURE STORY?
From “Master Class”:
A feature article is a news story that goes beyond the facts to weave in a narrative and tell a compelling story. A feature article differs from a hard news story as it offers an in-depth look at a particular subject, current event, or location to audiences. A good feature story will keep the reader’s attention until the end, delivering a fleshed-out narrative and creating a lasting impression.
Feature stories are the longer, more in-depth stories in magazines and newspapers, the stories you spend more time with. You may hear a little bit about the writer’s life and experience, but you also get a lot of information: one person’s experience with home schooling, for example, may lead to a feature story about the best practices for teaching children at home. We saw an example of a feature story when we read Hanif Abdurraqib’s story about his own name; he began with a personal anecdote, but went into detailed research about Zayn Malik and the way his relationship with Islam has been portrayed in the media.
Features do not always have personal anecdotes about the writer, but they do always go in-depth, have a human angle, and really try to grab the attention of the reader. They also always try to give the reader new, timely, well-researched information they can use. We’ll look at some examples in class.
Often, the more specific we get, the more interesting stories are! For instance: a student once came to us saying he wanted to write about his recent diagnosis with something called “middle insomnia,” but felt nobody else might be interested, since it was so specific to him. The whole class disagreed: we wanted to know what “middle insomnia” meant! His personal diagnosis was also a great way into an article into sleep health: something of interest to almost every audience.
Together, we will work to look at how feature articles are structured and how to build that structure. You will learn how to write:
- An introduction that hooks your reader
- A nutshell paragraph (also known as a “nut graf”) that explains to your readers early in the article what it is about and why they should care
- The body of the article– multiple paragraphs with well-researched evidence and analysis.
- A conclusion
Don’t get too worried about doing it all at once. We’ll work together each step of the way!