To write a story in such a way that each paragraph leaves a question with the reader that’s answered in the next paragraph. To do that, a writer needs a couple of skills – strongly developed storytelling skills, an excellent ability to listen, and being able to observe surroundings during an interview, as well as good research skills.

While it is very important to tell stories about issues you’re passionate about, it's not enough. Be prepared to put in long hours. You won’t become a good feature writer by working 09:00 to 17:00, or Monday to Friday. Spend time reading the work of writers you admire, make notes about the writing techniques they apply, and then use them yourself.

While feature writing is not a dying art, because it is so time-consuming, it is becoming harder to make time for feature writing. General newsroom environments no longer provide sufficient feature writing. Again, if you’d like to do features well, you need to put in the extra hours in the evenings and over weekends. 

On the other hand, specialist donor-funded positions or projects have been created in many newsrooms, which allow for long-form journalism. One of my favourite long-form writing sites is the United Kingdom-based science journalism site, Mosaic, funded by the Wellcome Foundation.

While Malan has not entered this year, I believe in the importance of the Sikuvile Journalism Awards. The Awards have the most credible panel of judges of any journalism award in the country, and the judging panel is larger than that of most other awards while the judges come from different backgrounds – both academia and newsrooms – making provision for a wide range of opinions. Judges also rotate from time to time, which helps to stimulate new discussions each year.

"It was a hard task to whittle down the entrants to just three finalists and one commendation," says Pippa Green, a judge for the category. She adds, "The qualities we looked for were thorough reporting, clear writing, preferably with the minimum of clichés, and innovative story ideas that served the public interest." 

This year’s category entries spanned a range of topics, including in-depth anniversaries of key historical events (such as the sinking of the Mendi 100 years ago); the commemoration of the Women’s Day March; the 16 June student uprising; profiles and features on critical social justice topics; and innovative business stories.

The Awards ceremony will take place Thursday, 19 October at The Venue Greenpark, also known as Johannesburg World Trade Centre, in Sandton, Gauteng.

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