Feature Writing

October 25th, 2009 by Collin Canright | Filed under Journalism.

As a newspaper writer, I excelled at features. I did news OK and loved covering town meetings, like my dad. I generally, however, disdained news reporters as shallow and superficial writers. As a feature writer, you could really write, and you could write long.

I started out studying photojournalism. For The Chesterton Tribune, my family’s newspaper, I shot and wrote a feature on the survival of he nation’s last interurban railroad, the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, which I loved to ride into the city of Chicago.

Later on, I styled my writing after Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson.

HST Autograph

HST Autograph

In that vein, I wrote as Gonzo, stream of consciousness, and observational as I could in “Late Night Life,” a feature my daughter Lilli suggested I include. I find it interesting now that my interests in human potential focus on choice and consciousness.

I did not completely disdain news. I covered a fire and tried to capture how it was fought as an intern at The Times of Hammond, Indiana. I was also the only Chicago-area reporter to interview an alleged shyster preacher in “Issue Splits Church.”

I wrote short introductions as well. My favorite is “Thinking Eyes Feeling Moments,” an introduction for the Missourian Sunday magazine’s story on the Picture of the Year competition. This was the first issue designed by my fellow student Chris Paule. I had a crush on her, but she didn’t know it. I think it was reading this piece where she decided I probably wasn’t just a heartless snobby critic after all.

Luminous Faces of Pilgrims” is in a similar vein and introduced an article written on pilgrimages by Dr. Judith Wright. The title says it all.

My favorite feature is “Runaway,” written for the Missourian. I met this runaway kid, and this story recounts my meeting with him as a narrative for a story on runaway kids in Columbia, MO. It was the last student feature I wrote and is, in retrospect, a disciplined version of the criticism and feature writing I did at Indiana combined with the political and economic reporting I learned in class.

My features editor loved it and got it published, even though her boss, who headed the features section of the paper, didn’t like long stories at all. (The Columbia Missourian is a professional paper run by professional reporters and editors as a lab for students at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, generally regarded at the nation’s best.)

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