A Reporter Explains His Approach to Writing News and Features

“You want to report, not interview your thumb,” he said.

Mr. Barnes never outlines his news or feature articles, but instead works off his notes, which he’ll consult as he’s writing.

He gathers all of his notes from his interviews and research, both typed and handwritten, and inputs the best quotes, facts and figures into a Microsoft Word document. Unlike a news article, a feature may involve several attempts at a compelling first few sentences — known as the lede — and lots of rewriting. “I’ve been known to fixate on a lede for much longer than I should,” he said.

Structurally, a news article is much more straightforward than a feature: In a news article, the most important and timely information appears in the first few sentences, with the remaining facts generally provided in descending order of importance. In a feature, by contrast, the writer often delays the revelation of certain details in order to build suspense.

Another difference, Mr. Barnes said, is the voice that he interjects — or doesn’t — into an article. A news article is usually devoid of personal flavor, while a feature can be saturated with it. He says he sometimes tries to “self-censor” his voice in a news article. In a feature, there is room for more lyrical description; Mr. Barnes is able to dwell on how a subject dresses, talks and reacts to his questions.

The editing process also differs. With features, it can involve lots of fine-tuning: Ledes may be thrown out and paragraphs rewritten. With a news article, an editor acts more like a safety net than a pruner or a polisher, ensuring that reporters on deadline aren’t overlooking important information or relevant questions, and that they aren’t committing any obvious factual errors.

The greatest challenge in writing a news article, in Mr. Barnes’s opinion, is achieving both speed and accuracy on deadline. Features present a different conundrum: A writer must carefully condense hours of interviews and research into a gripping-yet-accurate narrative that doesn’t get bogged down with superfluous information.

Though Mr. Barnes says he enjoys both forms, he’s always had a clear preference.

“I’m a feature writer who’s somehow managed not to get fired as a business reporter for 20 years,” he said.