=275. What the Feature Story Is
The feature, or human interest, story
is the newspaper man's invention for making stories of little news value
interesting. The prime difference between the feature story and the
normal information story we have been studying is that its news is a
little less excellent and must be made good by the writer's ingenuity.
The exciting informational story on the first page claims the reader's
attention by reason of the very dynamic power of its tidings, but the
news of the feature story must have a touch of literary rouge on its
face to make it attractive. This rouge generally is an adroit appeal to
the emotions, and just as some maidens otherwise plain of feature may be
made attractive, even beautiful, by a cosmetic touch accentuating a
pleasing feature or concealing a defect, so the human interest story may
be made fascinating by centering the interest in a single emotion and
drawing the attention away from the staleness, the sameness, the lack of
piquancy in the details. The emotion may be love, fear, hate, regret,
curiosity, humor,--no matter what, provided it is unified about, is
given the tone of, that feature.
But just as it takes artists among women to dare
successfully the lure of the rouge-dish, and just as so many, having
ventured, make of their faces mere caricatures of the beauty they have
sought, so only artists can handle the feature story. The difficulty
lies chiefly in the temptation to overemphasize. In striving to make the
story humorous, one goes too far, oversteps the limits of dignity, and
like the ten-twenty-thirty vaudeville actor, produces an effect of
disgust. Or in attempting to be pathetic, to excite a sympathetic tear,
one is liable to induce mere derisive laughter. And a single misplaced
word or a discordant phrase, like a mouse in a Sunday-school class, will
destroy the entire effect of what one would say. In no other kind of
writing is restraint more needed.
=277. Two Types
Probably entire accuracy demands the statement that
these remarks about the difficulty of the feature story apply more
specifically to the human interest type, the type the purpose of which
is largely to entertain. Certainly it is more difficult than the second,
whose purpose is to instruct or inform. The one derives its interest
from its appeal to the reader's curiosity, the other from its appeal to
the emotions. The emotional type attracts the reader through its appeal
to elemental instincts and feelings in men, as desire for food and life,
vain grief for one lost, struggle for position in society, undeserved
prosperity or misfortune, abnormal fear of death, stoicism in the face
of danger, etc. The following is by Frank Ward O'Malley, of the New
York Sun, a classic of this type of human interest story:
=DEATH OF HAPPY GENE SHEEHAN=
Mrs. Catherine Sheehan stood in the darkened parlor
of her home at 361 West Fifteenth Street late
yesterday afternoon, and told her version of the
murder of her son Gene, the youthful policeman whom
a thug named Billy Morley shot in the forehead, down
under the Chatham Square elevated station early
yesterday morning. Gene's mother was thankful that
her boy hadn't killed Billy Morley before he died,
"because," she said, "I can say honestly, even now,
that I'd rather have Gene's dead body brought home
to me, as it will be to-night, than to have him come
to me and say, 'Mother, I had to kill a man this
"God comfort the poor wretch that killed the boy,"
the mother went on, "because he is more unhappy
to-night than we are here. Maybe he was weak-minded
through drink. He couldn't have known Gene or he
wouldn't have killed him. Did they tell you at the
Oak Street Station that the other policemen called
Gene Happy Sheehan? Anything they told you about him
is true, because no one would lie about him. He was
always happy, and he was a fine-looking young man,
and he always had to duck his helmet when he walked
under the gas fixture in the hall, as he went out
"He was doing dance steps on the floor of the
basement, after his dinner yesterday noon, for the
girls--his sisters, I mean--and he stopped of a
sudden when he saw the clock, and picked up his
helmet. Out on the street he made pretend to arrest
a little boy he knows, who was standing there,--to
see Gene come, out, I suppose,--and when the little
lad ran away laughing, I called out, 'You couldn't
catch Willie, Gene; you're getting fat.'
"'Yes, and old, mammy,' he said, him who is--who
was--only twenty-six--'so fat,' he said, 'that I'm
getting a new dress coat that'll make you proud when
you see me in it, mammy.' And he went over Fifteenth
Street whistling a tune and slapping his leg with a
folded newspaper. And he hasn't come back.
"But I saw him once after that, thank God, before he
was shot. It's strange, isn't it, that I hunted him
up on his beat late yesterday afternoon for the
first time in my life? I never go around where my
children are working or studying--one I sent through
college with what I earned at dressmaking and some
other little money I had, and he's now a teacher;
and the youngest I have at college now. I don't mean
that their father wouldn't send them if he could,
but he's an invalid, although he's got a position
lately that isn't too hard for him. I got Gene
prepared for college, too, but he wanted to go right
into an office in Wall Street. I got him in there,
but it was too quiet and tame for him, Lord have
mercy on his soul; and then, two years ago, he
wanted to go on the police force, and he went.
"After he went down the street yesterday I found a
little book on a chair, a little list of the streets
or something, that Gene had forgot. I knew how
particular they are about such things, and I didn't
want the boy to get in trouble, and so I threw on a
shawl and walked over through Chambers Street toward
the river to find him. He was standing on a corner
some place down there near the bridge clapping time
with his hands for a little newsy that was dancing;
but he stopped clapping, struck, Gene did, when he
saw me. He laughed when I handed him the little book
and told that was why I'd searched for him, patting
me on the shoulder when he laughed--patting me on
"'It's a bad place for you here, Gene,' I said.
'Then it must be bad for you, too, mammy,' said he;
and as he walked to the end of his beat with me--it
was dark then--he said, 'They're lots of crooks
here, mother, and they know and hate me and they're
afraid of me'--proud, he said it--'but maybe they'll
get me some night.' He patted me on the back and
turned and walked east toward his death. Wasn't it
strange that Gene said that?
"You know how he was killed, of course, and how--Now
let me talk about it, children, if I want to. I
promised you, didn't I, that I wouldn't cry any more
or carry on? Well, it was five o'clock this morning
when a boy rang the bell here at the house and I
looked out the window and said, 'Is Gene dead?' 'No,
ma'am,' answered the lad, 'but they told me to tell
you he was hurt in a fire and is in the hospital.'
Jerry, my other boy, had opened the door for the lad
and was talking to him while I dressed a bit. And
then I walked down stairs and saw Jerry standing
silent under the gaslight, and I said again, 'Jerry,
is Gene dead?' And he said 'Yes,' and he went out.
"After a while I went down to the Oak Street Station
myself, because I couldn't wait for Jerry to come
back. The policemen all stopped talking when I came
in, and then one of them told me it was against the
rules to show me Gene at that time. But I knew the
policeman only thought I'd break down, but I
promised him I wouldn't carry on, and he took me
into a room to let me see Gene. It was Gene.
"I know to-day how they killed him. The poor boy
that shot him was standing in Chatham Square arguing
with another man when Gene told him to move on. When
the young man wouldn't, but only answered back, Gene
shoved him, and the young man pulled a revolver and
shot Gene in the face, and he died before Father
Rafferty, of St. James's, got to him, God rest his
soul. A lot of policemen heard the shot, and they
all came running with their pistols and clubs in
their hands. Policeman Laux--I'll never forget his
name or any of the others that ran to help
Gene--came down the Bowery and ran out into the
middle of the square where Gene lay.
"When the man that shot Gene saw the policeman
coming, he crouched down and shot at Policeman Laux,
but, thank God, he missed him. Then policemen named
Harrington and Rourke and Moran and Kehoe chased the
man all around the streets there, some heading him
off when he tried to run into that street that goes
off at an angle--East Broadway, isn't it? A big
crowd had come out of Chinatown now and was chasing
the man, too, until Policemen Rourke and Kehoe got
him backed up against a wall. When Policeman Kehoe
came up close, the man shot his pistol right at
Kehoe and the bullet grazed Kehoe's helmet.
"All the policemen jumped at the man then, and one
of them knocked the pistol out of his hand with a
blow of a club. They beat him, this Billy Morley, so
Jerry says his name is, but they had to because he
fought so hard. They told me this evening that it
will go hard with the unfortunate murderer, because
Jerry says that when a man named Frank O'Hare, who
was arrested this evening charged with stealing
cloth or something, was being taken to headquarters,
he told Detective Gegan that he and a one-armed man
who answered to the description of Morley, the young
man who killed Gene, had a drink last night in a
saloon at Twenty-second Street and Avenue A, and
that when the one-armed man was leaving the saloon
he turned and said, 'Boys, I'm going out now to bang
a guy with buttons.'
"They haven't brought me Gene's body yet. Coroner
Shrady, so my Jerry says, held Billy Morley, the
murderer, without letting him get out on bail, and I
suppose that in a case like this they have to do a
lot of things before they can let me have the body
here. If Gene only hadn't died before Father
Rafferty got to him, I'd be happier. He didn't need
to make his confession, you know, but it would have
been better, wouldn't it? He wasn't bad, and he went
to mass on Sunday without being told; and even in
Lent, when we always say the rosary out loud in the
dining-room every night, Gene himself said to me the
day after Ash Wednesday, 'If you want to say the
rosary at noon, mammy, before I go out, instead of
at night when I can't be here, we'll do it.'
"God will see that Gene's happy to-night, won't he,
after Gene said that?" the mother asked as she
walked out into the hallway with her black-robed
daughters grouped behind her. "I know he will," she
said, "and I'll--" She stopped with an arm resting
on the banister to support her. "I--I know I
promised you, girls," said Gene's mother, "that I'd
try not to cry any more, but I can't help it." And
she turned toward the wall and covered her face with
 Frank Ward O'Malley in the New York Sun;
reprinted in The Outlook, lxxxvii, 527-529.
=278. Informational Type
The second type of feature story, the
informational, is the one we find most frequently in the feature section
of the editorial page and the Sunday edition. It includes such subjects
as, "How to Jiu-jitsu a Holdup Man," "Why Hot Water Dissolves Things,"
"Duties of an International Spy," "Feminism and the Baby Crop," "Why
Dogs Wag their Tails," "The World's Highest Salaried Choir Boy," etc.
Stories of new inventions and discoveries, accounts of the lives of
famous and infamous men, of barbaric and court life, methods for
lowering the high cost of living, explanations of the workings of the
parcel post system, facts telling the effects of the European
war,--these are some of the kinds of news included. Timeliness is not
essential, but is valuable, as in the publication of Halloween,
Christmas, Easter, and vacation stories at their appropriate seasons.
The sources of feature stories are everywhere,--on the
street, in the club, at church, in the court room, on the athletic
field, in reference books and government publications, in the journals
of fashion, anywhere that an observing reporter will look. Old settlers
and residents, particularly on their birthdays and wedding
anniversaries, are good for stories of the town or state as it used to
be fifty years ago; and their photographs add to the value of their
stories. Travelers just returned from foreign countries or from distant
sections of the United States provide good feature copy. Educational
journals, forestry publications, mining statistics, geological surveys,
court decisions, all furnish valuable data. The only requirement in
obtaining information is personal observation and investigation.
The form of the feature story is anomalous. It has none.
One is at liberty to begin in any way likely to attract the reader, and
to continue in any way that will hold him. Possibly informal leads are
the rule rather than the exception--leads that will arrest attention by
telling enough of the story to excite curiosity without giving all the
details. Note the suspensive effect of the following leads:
=SAM DREAMS OF ROBBERS=
Two big black-bearded robbers, armed to the hat-band
and vowing to blow his appetite away from his
personality if he uttered a tweet, walked into the
mind of Samuel Shuster on Wednesday night as he lay
snoring in his four-post bed at No. 11 Market
Street. One placed a large warty hand around
Samuel's windpipe and began to play it, and the
other with a furtive look up and down stage reached
into his pocket and drew forth $350. With a scream,
two yowls, and a tiger, Samuel awoke....
=FIXES BROKEN LEG WITH NAILS=
Capt. Patrick Rogers of truck company No. 2 found a
man leaning against the quarters at Washington and
Clinton Streets early yesterday and demanded what he
"I broke my leg getting off a car," said the
stranger. "Gimme a hammer and some nails and I'll
fix it." ...
If it were not for our industrial wastefulness, it
is a fair guess that the income of the United States
would be sixteen times--Well, do you know that
America burns up forty thousand tons of paper a day,
worth fifty dollars a ton? That alone is $2,000,000
a day wasted....
=FINDS WOMAN DEAD IN BARN=
Stephen Garrity of 1124 Seventy-third street stepped
into a deserted barn at Seventy-fourth street and
Ashland avenue yesterday afternoon to get out of the
wind and light his pipe.
He was just about to apply a lighted match to the
pipe when he saw the form of a woman hanging to one
of the rafters. A long black silk-lined coat hung so
that Garrity could see a black skirt, a white waist,
and black shoes. The woman had a fair complexion and
The match burned Garrity's fingers and went out....
=281. Suspense Story
In some feature stories the writers attempt to
hold their readers' interest by making the narrative suspensive
="MISSOURI" IN CHICAGO=
"Missouri" Perkins is sixteen and hails from Kansas
City. This morning he walked into the office of the
Postal Telegraph Company on Dearborn Street and
asked for a job. The manager happened to want a
messenger boy just at that moment and gave him a
message to deliver in a hurry.
"Here's your chance, my boy," said the manager.
"These people have been kicking about undelivered
messages. Now don't come back until you deliver it."
A while afterward the telephone rang. On the other
end of the wire was a building watchman, somewhat
"Have you got a boy they call 'Missouri?'" inquired
"We did have ten minutes ago," replied the manager.
The watchman continued: "That 'Missouri' feller came
over here and said he had to go to one of the
offices. We don't allow no one up at that office at
this hour and I told him he couldn't go."
"Yes, yes," said the manager.
"Well," said the watchman, "he said he would go, and
I had to pull my gun on him."
"But you didn't shoot my messenger," exclaimed the
"No," meekly came the response over the wire, "but I
want my gun back."
=282. Uniqueness of Style
Again, a writer will resort to uniqueness
of form or style to get his effect.
=HIS WIFE, SHE WENT AWAY=
=And He Did a Little Entertaining, Which
Leads Up to This Story=
Mrs. Gladys I. Fick visited in California.
Mr. Fick entertained while she was away.
Mrs. Fick found it out.
And got a divorce.
=283. Unity of Impression
Most frequently, however, the effort is to
obtain unity of impression through close adherence to a single tone or
effect. The story by Frank Ward O'Malley on page 225 has already been
cited as an excellent story of pathos, and the following may be examined
as a portrayal of childish loyalty:
=SILENT ABOUT BULLET IN BRAIN=
A tragedy of childhood featuring the loyalty of
10-year-old Stephen Stec to his three years younger
brother Albert, even when he felt death near, was
brought out at Kenosha hospital to-day. X-ray
pictures showed that the older boy had a bullet from
a revolver embedded to a distance of three inches in
the brain matter.
The boy was shot by his younger brother Sunday
afternoon, but after they had agreed to keep secret
the story of the shooting, Stephen, with the
stoicism of a Spartan, had refused to tell the
story. When the X-ray picture revealed his secret he
sobbed out, "He didn't mean to do it." Then he told
="Just Tired Out," He Says=
The two boys had been left at home alone on Sunday
afternoon. Their father, Albert Stec, a prosperous
market man, had warned them never to touch a
revolver which lay in a drawer. Little Albert, not
yet 6 years old, got the weapon, pointed it at the
brother, and pulled the trigger. The bullet entered
the back of the other boy's head. The mother, on her
return home, found the boy on the floor with his
little brother keeping a vigil.
"I'm just tired out," the boy told his mother. She
put him to bed and tucked him away under the covers.
With the little brother playing about the bed he
went off to sleep.
=Physician Stumbles Onto Secret=
Monday morning he appeared sick and remained at home
from school. In the afternoon his mother became
worried when he failed to recover from drowsiness
which had overtaken him and she called Dr. J. N.
Pait. The physician made an examination of the boy,
but found nothing to account for his condition.
Then he rubbed his hand over his head. The telltale
blood revealed the fact that the boy had been
injured. With the little brother holding on to his
coat the boy walked bravely to an automobile and was
taken to the Kenosha hospital, where the X-ray
machine revealed his secret.
=All Functions Remain Normal=
This afternoon at the hospital it was declared that
the boy showed no sign of fever and that his pulse
"The case is a most remarkable one," declared Dr.
Pait. "The boy is cheerful and every organ of the
body is performing its functions, but at that there
is the bullet in his brain. We expect sudden
collapse in the case, but a boy as brave as he is
should live." The little fellow made no complaint
and when the smaller brother was brought to the
hospital their greeting was of a most tender nature.
"That big machine gave it away," was the way the
injured boy broke the story of his seeming
faithlessness to his trust.
 Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1915.
=284. Feature Story Writers
Feature stories in the Sunday supplement
are written generally by a regular staff of writers. Some of the staff
are office men on the pay-roll of the papers. Others are regular
contributors who fill certain amounts of space each week or month. Still
others, specialists in their lines, write only occasionally, but deal in
a scholarly, exhaustive way with their subjects. The feature stories in
the news columns are written generally by the stronger men on the
regular staff of reporters. Some papers have regular feature men on whom
they rely for human interest stories. And any newspaper man who can
handle such stories well may be sure of a place at an advanced salary
over the ordinary reporter. Feature stories are coming more and more
into prominence on the large dailies because of their appeal to all
classes of society, and the beginner, as soon as he becomes acquainted
with his surroundings and gains dexterity in the handling of news, is
advised to try his hand at the human interest type. It will pay, and
success in this field will give a much desired prestige.
Next: Correspondence Stories
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