Not like what you may expect.
Steen Steensen’s just published a study in the academic journal Journalism analyzing a Norwegian online-only newspaper that launched a features section in 2002. You’ll need to be a subscriber to read the article, but his summary is here.
In essence, he argues that online features journalists aren’t necessarily the same as print features writerswe’re talking long-form human interest stories in glossy magazines and newspaper inserts. In an online-only newsroom, or at least in Dagbladet.no’s newsroom, the features journalists developed “a strategy implying that close relations with readers became more important than close relations with sources.” Instead of spending time with a source to get inside his head, these journalists relied on second or third-hand stories “largely assembled from other websites.” The deep, human impact, Steensen says, came from readers, not sources. For example, at the end of this article (in Norwegian, sorry) on the troubles of gay people in rural areas in Norway the comments are “dominated,” Steensen says, by first-person accounts by gay readers.
“Readers were perceived as content providers both in the sense that the discussions the stories generated were regarded as valuable content and because the journalists ‘outsourced’ the human touch reporting to the audience. Thus, the readers to some extent became the sources.”
We were a little freaked out by this at firstcutting and pasting replacing a 10,000-word New York Times story?
But we don’t think that Steensen is arguing that this is how all newsrooms should be. It’s just a way that this newsroom has discovered and adapted. Not necessarily a replacement for other models.
And if posting a blog entry, even if it’s mostly culled from somewhere else, starts an intimate conversation between commenters, well, that’s OK by us.