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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > November 2016 > Feature writing: The front line

Feature writing: The front line

Immersing readers in breaking news, uncovering behind-the-scenes drama or illuminating the human condition in depth requires dedication and rock-solid narrative skills, says Tina Jackson

Last month’s feature in this series – on colour writing – was something of a writer’s summer holiday for you. This month it’s back to school in no uncertain terms because we’re going to look at reportage. As this is considered the highest and most prestigious form of feature journalism, occupying a space between literary non-fiction and documentary reporting, it is therefore the most likely form to inspire fear in newbie feature writers.

What is reportage?

Reportage at its most straightforward is journalism that gives its reader an insight into history – both in retrospective, and into history as it is being made. It has been written by some of world’s best writers, many but by no means all working as newspaper correspondents. It may not have been written with an eye to being read years in the future, or contributing to a reader understanding a historical moment, but even if it’s been scribbled in a notebook on a battlefield, it has lasting qualities. In 1996 literary publisher Faber brought out The Faber Book of Reportage, edited by Professor John Carey, that includes eyewitness accounts of the sinking of the Titanic and WW2 concentration camps. The Granta Book of Reportage features work by some of the world’s most famous writers, including John le Carré, Germaine Greer, Martha Gellhorn and Marilynne Robinson. George Orwell’s reportage includes Down andOut in Paris and London, Homage to Catalonia and The Road to Wigan Pier – ie, stone classics. Outstanding contemporary practitioners include the Indian novelist Rana Dasgupta and war reporters Anthony Loyd and Janine di Giovanni. These are very big footprints to follow.

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