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The Challenges of Contemporary Journalism and Workshop on Feature Story Creation

The EU-funded Project Association4U organized a workshop for regional journalists of Ukraine held by a German colleague.

On 23rd November 2018 nine regional journalists - winners of the competition on the best material on the topic of European integration had the chance to discuss professional subjects and gain experience from their German colleague Ingo Petz. He is a freelance journalist who has been working for such newspapers as Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Der Standard. Ingo spoke about journalistic standards and how to stick to them in the difficult times of a hybrid war. Moreover, he shared the secrets of mastering feature stories.

Among the problems of contemporary journalism Ingo highlighted the dependency of the Media on oligarchs. Conflicts of interest occur, since quite often a journalist has to criticize the owner of the media for which he works. Apart from this, Ukrainians are facing such two key challenges as disinformation and propaganda. In Ingo Petz’s mind, in these circumstances it is crucial to keep to journalistic standards. This means, first of all, avoid stigmatization and labelling, separate facts from judgments, refrain from comments and be guided by critical thinking.

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Feature Story Creation

The German journalist made a significant accent on the topic of feature stories, which help to fight for the reader’s attention in social media, particularly Facebook. This genre allows not only to cover actual and interesting topics but also to practically involve the reader into the story. It is very important to use details that transfer the atmosphere. Thus, when gathering information, a journalist has to pay attention to how the characters are dressed, the way they speak, what books are in the office of the interlocutor, what is happening around. It is not surprising that in Germany a feature story is the most popular genre, and very often the readers, when buying a newspaper, open directly the third page (where such materials can be usually found).

Speaking about how to create/build a feature story, Ingo made a parallel with filming, meaning that before start writing, carry on so-called “casting” / selection of the characters. Then you collect environmental” details, helping you to create your “film”.

After bright photographs, title and lead, what is important is the first paragraph is the “scene”. You have to find something enough catchy to attract the reader’s attention. If such a “scene” had not been found during the information gathering, use eloquence, several sentences that will bring the facts together. It is vital not to lose the effect of presence when drawing these facts and placing them in a particular manner.

According to Ingo Petz, there are no hopeless situations. For instance, in 1965 one journalist was given the task to make a feature story on Frank Sinatra. When the reporter arrived to the celebrity, the latter one refused to meet as was sick. It was not possible to postpone the material for later, as it was planned for the next edition. Consequently, the reporter gathered the testimonies of Frank’s friends and acquaintances and delivered his material under the title “Frank Sinatra felt sick”. This is a story about how something that seems to be one step from a fiasco turns into a success.