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Beneath the surface- America’s Best profile and feature writing

October 4, 2012

Profile and Feature writing challenges the reporter to capture the essence of an individual and recognize the qualities worth celebrating. The examples included in America’s Best Newspaper Writing chapter 7 demonstrate admirable profile and feature articles exhibit conflict, stress the exceptional aspects of an individual’s life and connect the subject’s experiences to a larger societal issue.

Cynthia Gorney wrote a profile piece about Theodor Geisel, an author best known as Dr. Seuss. While Geisel’s contribution to children’s literature already distinguishes him, Gorney’s inclusion of minute details illustrated a more intimate portrait of the man. While she gave attention to the famous titles and explained the development of lovable characters, such as the environmentally-conscious Lorax, she also described the somber nature of the whimsical figure. The detailed account of the rifle target “to remind (him) of perfection” illuminates his ambition and, furthermore, frustration with his product. The contrast provides the reader with a dueling image of the iconic Seuss, yet a complete portrayal of Geisel. . While the conflict is evident throughout Gorney’s profile piece, Blain Harden, author of “Life, Death, and Corruption on an African Mainstream,” suggests tension in one simple sentence: “Bright lights on a dark, dark river” (206). Conflict is a significant news-value and intrigues the reader.

Saul Pett also capitalizes on the conflicting elements definitive of Edward Irving Koch, former New York City mayor, “who is oddly at peace with himself in an unpeaceful place” (175). The profile piece differentiates Koch from the city that he governs, in turn, elevating the man and giving the readers cause to celebrate his legacy. The Atlantic’s profile piece on Michael Gerson, speechwriter for President George W. Bush, reveals a discrepancy between the public’s image of the man and reality. Conflict is also apparent in the contrast between Mirta Ojito’s lifestyle and that of her former neighbors who remained in Cuba, described in “A Sentimental Journey to la Casa of Childhood.” Ojito also evokes irony when she relays the fact that she still refers to the apartment in Havana as “la casa” even though another family occupies the space.

Ojito also uses her personal experiences to reveal the political and social situation in Cuba. She describes her home as “frozen in time, like much of Cuba today,” alluding to the lack of development and progress in the country. Similarly, Harden allows the conduct among passengers on the Major Mudimbi to reflect the corrupt society. Additionally, Zev Chafets’ “The Huckabee Factor,” published in The New York Times, draws parallels between the subject’s religious affiliation and the close relationship between religion and politics. Although Ken Fuson’s “Ah, What a Day,” is short, merely one sentence, but also develops connections between the individual community members and the season as a whole. The people’s personal activities, such as wondering where you are going to go on a summer vacation or sticking the ice scraper in the truck, signifies the change of weather throughout the area. As a result, the focus of the story is embedded in each detail.

Fuson also shows the effectiveness of repetition. The word “by” simply leads the reader through the story. Similarly, “Gone Like the Wind,” an article published in Vanity Fair repeats the cardinal rule of horse racing through the introduction, brining the reader farther into the story. The same can be said for Tommy Tomlinson’s “A Beautiful Mind.” He continually iterates the fact that no one in 25 years has come close to solving the problem. Tomlinson carries the idea throughout the story, until John Swallow solves the problem and grows as a result. The repeated fact also emphasizes the uniqueness of his subject.

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