Blogger Vadim Lavrusik has investigated the use of video in ten US online news sites and found that video is most frequently used in feature stories. This is because feature stories tend to ” have visual elements that lend themselves well to video footage”, argues Lavrusik.
This raises the question of a what a feature story is and if a feature story might be something different online than in traditional media (i.e. print and TV). In a paper I’m presenting at the 19th Nordic Conference for Media and Communication Research in Karlstad, Sweden next week, I argue that feature journalism traditionally has been dominated by discourses of adventure, intimacy and fiction. Feature journalists use techniques of fiction writing to cover adventures actions entailing intimate encounters with sources and milieus. And they might them selves be intimate with their readers by writing in a subjective style.
However, feature journalism is not a static genre that hasn’t changed. When new technology is introduced and implemented, genres change. And new genres develop. For instance, competition from first television news and then online news has “featurized” newspaper journalism since newspapers no longer can compete with online/tv breaking news coverage. The distinction between news and feature journalism is therefore becoming increasingly blurred in newspapers.
So what happens when feature journalism is remediated online? It is possible to identify at least two different strategies: Online news sites with strong affiliation with a parent newspaper and/or broadcaster tend to rely on a multiplatform strategy. They equip their (newspaper) journalists and photographers with a video camera and/or a sound recorder and publish the written piece both in print and online. In addition, they publish a Soundslide (to better maximize the use of the photographers work) or a video or a Flash production online. This is the strategy chosen by most US online newspapers and probably by the the sites Lavruski investigated. This is all fine. But it is still basically old media feature journalism – with some added content.
Online news sites with no or limited affiliations with a parent newspaper and/or broadcaster tend to choose a different strategy. Either, they rely heavily on text based stories and interactions with readers – like the Norwegian online newspaper dagbladet.no does in its feature section – or they embark on a multimedia bonanza implying the utilization of all thinkable multimedia features. Examples of the latter are the eccentric online magazines made by Magwerk and Flyp Media (see this blog post for more on Flyp Media).
In a recently published article in a special issue of the Scandinavian journal Rhetorica Scandinavica on journalism and rhetoric, I analyze how the Norwegian online newspaper dagbladet.no has developed a unique understanding of feature journalism in a stand-alone feature section. I have followed the development of this feature sections for several years, both from a readers point of view and by ethnographic research from within the newsroom. I found that their understanding of what feature journalism is developed from an initially quite traditional understanding to a more online adapt understanding, where reader involvement became the core virtue. The stories they produce are text-based and quite long, and they are motivated by the possibility of engaging readers in debate – or having readers share personal stories that serve as “cases” to the main story (thus embedding the discourse of intimacy that is represented in traditional feature journalism in a quite different manner). The point is that this development was not planned or foreseen by the journalists or editors of dagbladet.no – it develop in this direction probably because the online feature desk was left to develop its journalism without intervention from the parent newspaper.
I guess my point with writing all this is that remediating a genre online – feature journalism or any other genre – is a complex process that might end up with a completely new genre. Adding a video might give added value to a feature story online, but this is perhaps not the way the genre is further developed in new media.