The Reporter as Invisible Observer

In your anecdotal lead (the beginning section of your feature article), you need to “set the scene,” that is, describe in sensory detail people doing something. Not what you are doing, but what they are doing.

Fingers fly over the raised dots, doing the work that eyes cannot. Eleven children in yellow T-shirts are reading one of three passages — “Rainy Day Fun,” “Two Great Vacation Ideas” and “Velveteen Rabbit.” Then they turn to their Perkins Braillers, which look like a manual typewriter with just nine keys, and stamp out answers to questions that test their reading comprehension.

In traditional journalism, reporters are “invisible observers.” This means writers should not be a part of their stories, but rather act like a hidden camera recording sight and sound.

“When I arrived at the event..” or “Next I asked him…”

This is wrong. “I” should not be in the story. (Unless you really are an important part of your story.)

When I climbed the stairs to John Smith’s apartment, I heard a strange, rhythmic thumping. Could it be bongo drums? I opened the door, and saw Smith sitting on the floor, banging away. He smiled at me and told me to come in.

X No good! In traditional news, the journalist does not appear as a character.

Outside John Smith’s apartment, a strange thumping could be heard. Could it be bongo drums? When the door was opened, Smith could be seen sitting on the floor, banging away. A visitor is smiled at and welcomed.

X Don’t just switch to passive voice.

The thump of bongos fills the stairwell outside John Smith’s apartment. Pounding away, Smith welcomes a visitor without missing a beat.

O Yes! It puts the reader directly into the reporter’s sensory experiences

Try this. For fifteen minutes, write down your “sensory experiences”–what you see, hear (and smell, maybe.) Don’t write about yourself. Don’t use “I” or “me.”

Next, revise this:

One clear sunny day in June, I decided to go to Sunday Market by bike. Before I got there, I could hear cheerful voices from each shop’s owner.

“Irasshai” says an old woman on the right standing under a green tarp and selling green peppers.

“Would you like to buy fresh vegetables?” says a man on the other side holding a newspaper.

When I was walking through the market pushing my bike, one store smelled incredibly stinky. “What??” I looked back and got it. Absolutely it was takuwan (“pickled daikon radish”). I felt that this market is not a normal market. But I was excited so much.

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