In Berkeley: The Last Feature Writer in USA

by Steed Dropout
Feb. 7, 2013


One of the first victims of shrinking journalism is the feature story, followed closely by investigative reporting, and narrowed beats.

Still I lumber on, turning out feature after feature. Why do I do it?

Because I am a feature writer through and through. I was feature editor of my high school newspaper, a feature writer on the Daily Illini, and my hometown newspaper.

When I returned to journalism recently, I resumed my features slant.

What is that slant? Hard to say, it’s mostly a gut feeling feature writers get when they sense a strong feature angle. Writers such as Damon Runyon, Steven Crane, Studs Turkel, and Stanton Delaplane had the knack.

Me and my Shadow series. The lonely feature writer. Photo by Ted Friedman.

My last feature, a major undertaking, started out as a simple sob-sister piece. A family of four was fighting to save the family’s business from IRS foreclosure, and ruination after the owner of the business for twenty-two years “ran the business into the ground.”

My new editor at Berkeleyside, Frances Dinkelspiel , kept asking me questions I couldn’t answer and each time I went back to the family restaurant, I would get another angle.

Then on my last visit, I hit journalism gold. Too bad I can’t write about it, because I believe the Schipani “family stories” should be owned by the Schipani’s.

One of the Schipani daughters thinks I told too much. She has no idea how inquisitive my editor is. I was touting the story to my editor, and every tout led to her questions.

She loved how I got “food poisoning” half-way into the story. She wanted me to follow up on that and I did. She wondered how the family got its business back. She was using mistaken media reports.

When she saw I was willing to be very sick in pursuit of a story, she ceded me more control over the story and even tried to “preserve my voice.” I was just gone over all this.


As many as I have breath.

I may cut back on full features in favor of squibs. The squibs are short features.

Feature this. A boy and his dog on the streets of Berkeley. Photo by Ted Friedman.


The template of all journalism is the five W’s: who, what, where, when, why. Feature writers must cover the big five, but they; add something, some kind of schmaltz, something sappy, corny, or nuts.

A good feature leaves the reader wondering whether the reporter has made it all up.

It’s the sixth W — Wreally?

That’s what a good feature used to do, what I keep trying to do.


I pitched the idea to Berkeleyside, but haven’t had a chance to get on it. The story? What’s news on Solano.

I got this story back in the fall when I did what I had hoped would be my last events piece. I was out of control, submitting a headline about three cities eating Berkeley.

Picture by 'Peaches,' a street kid who needed me to watch her dog last week; Peaches will be an upcoming feature. We have yet to ID the dog.

But I did a lot of reporting about what was happening on Solano, a twenty-two block street sloping to the bay.

Seems routine, but we know better. Everything will have to be documented and my new editors at Berkekleyside will have new questions.

I have to go in looking for the human interest.

Feature this!

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