Writing better profile stories

What could be more basic than a profile story, right? Yet, Sara Jackson a reporter and editor for UPI says they’re harder to write well than you may think.

“Even with profiles, it’s important to have a news hook — something to grab people’s attention,” says Jackson.

She suggests trying to tie the profile in with a timely event. If there’s something important about to happen in the profiled person’s life or something has just recently occurred, that may be perfect as a hook. If not, reporters have to be thinking about that attention-grabbing detail, even as they’re still conducting interviews and reporting the story.

“Don’t wait until you’re back at your computer to find the news hook,” Jackson says.

Another key to the effective profile is sourcing, according to Jackson.

“What makes a profile live and breathe is to have more voices in it,” Jackson says. “What adds depth and interest are the other people who know the person you’re profiling.”

The types of questions you ask matter, too. For example, if you’re interviewing a friend or loved one, try asking “What’s tough to deal with about this person?” When you’re talking to the profile subject, ask not only about their biggest successes, but also about their biggest mistakes.

“The first thing to realize is that everyone’s life has conflict,” Jackson says. She says profiles have to have some tension or some paradox explored to keep the audience interested. Profiles, like any other story, must be structured so that you lead the viewer from thought to thought.

“I look at stories as if I’m heading down a path on which I know where I’m going, but the reader doesn’t. I guide them and take them with me.’