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Feature content is the analysis, humour and personality of a publication. So said Sean Hamilton, deputy head of content at The Sun, speaking at the News Academy Summer School today.

He said feature writers tend to be very concerned with the quality of their writing, and the quality of their ideas.

"They tend to be reflecting on the news and reacting to it," Hamilton told Journalism.co.uk, "although the best will generate their own agenda-setting exclusives."​

A passion for the chosen subject makes it very easy to do the job, said Hamilton, who considers working on a features desk to be the best job in the world.

Some elements of feature writing will never change. But just like other parts of the industry, there are ways feature writers can adapt to changes digital publishing have brought.

Here are five of Hamilton's top tips and pieces of advice for feature writers working online.

Think content

"We introduced the idea of content to reflect the fact that we're more than just a newspaper," Hamilton said. "We're publishing across different platforms so we're experimenting with ways content will work." 

Each department at The Sun is now responsible for digital content as well as articles for the print edition, Hamilton said, and feature writers need to think beyond the pure text of their copy and how an editor might want to tell the story online.

At The Sun, a feature might be presented "in different ways on different platforms", he said, or created specifically for new platforms.

"It's also to get features and news working together more effectively," he said. "We're very good at producing features for the newspaper, so how do we take those features and make them work on the smartphone, on the web? We're experimenting with those things."

Don't ignore BuzzFeed


He said The Sun was straying into the area of lists and shorter features. "You can't ignore BuzzFeed because it's come along and it's getting a huge amount of readers. So obviously I look at it all the time and I'm curious why it is so successful." 

He said the reason might be that it provides quick, snackable and entertaining content. "I think the interesting thing for me is BuzzFeed tends to be round-up features, 15 best, 17 whatevers, which is rounding up existing news.

"I think it's important that you're still going to be generating the news to have something to do round-ups about. But at the same time we definitely regard ourselves as being in competition with them now." 

In showbiz, publicists still rule...


Apart from thinking how a feature might fit with a publisher's different digital offerings, there are important elements of the trade which are still important.

Publicists are the first route in, Hamilton said in his presentation. This was the same route taken by bloggers, who had a smaller audience but were getting the same access.

"To have a long-term career as a showbiz journalist you need to have a relationship with the publicists."

…but the best contacts are not PRs


However, the best stories could often come from unexpected contacts, he said. Building up connections is crucial and easy "if you're all the things you need to be… charming, persistent".

Be a self starter but also realistic 


He told the story of a reporter who traveled to Norway to report on the national prison system, but whose story did not make it in the paper.

He said not making the cut can be heartbreaking for journalists but "there’s always a bit of wastage, inevitably.”

Being realistic about resources and deadlines was important, but so was generating ideas.

"The thing that I enjoy most is just when there's a really interesting concept or a funny idea behind it," he said, "when you're presenting something a different way." 

Update: This article has been updated to clarify a point from Hamilton on the difference between feature writers and news reporters.

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