Feature Stories

=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.

=276. Difficulty

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:


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

the door.

"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

the shoulder.

"'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

her apron.[49]

[49] 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.

=279. Sources

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.

=280. Form

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:


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....


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

was doing.

"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....


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

brown hair.

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" 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

the watchman.

"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.


=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:


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

the story.

="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

was normal.

"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.[50]

[50] 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.

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