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Marc Fisher on The Washington Post‘s new Story Lab

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I spoke this morning with Marc Fisher, enterprise editor for local news at The Washington Post. Fisher is heading up the organization’s new Story Lab, which launched this week. See our next post for the Storyboard take on the Lab.

Can you tell me a little about the genesis of the Story Lab?

We restructured our whole newsroom last summer. As part of that, my job was created as one of two in the newsroom to promote more enterprise reporting, to encourage deeper and more creative kinds of aggressive reporting, with an emphasis on narrative.

Marc Fisher

Marc Fisher

It’s a group of people who care deeply about writing. We put our heads together and think of ways to take a steamship of a news organization like the Post and make it more accessible and more open to some of the new cultural mores of the Web.

Story Lab is a way for us to enter the world of crowdsourcing and also lift the veil on the way we do journalism, opening up a window onto reporting and why some stories work and others don’t.

It’s an interactive place where readers can help us formulate stories at every stage, from conception to publication. Also a place where we can show readers how the sausage is made and also give them a place to discuss with us some of the ethical and logistical issues in journalism.

Our reporters will go on and talk about the response to their stories, such as what happens when you do a story and the subjects become the object of massive media attention when they never were before? We have a piece on just that coming up.

We have a writer writing about blogging for the first time after years of doing more traditional journalism. Tomorrow, there will be piece on “how I got that story” from a reporter who recently wrote about the new openness on pot-smoking. He’s written a piece for us on how he got people to go public with their names.

It’s a way for writers to also get into some of the material that doesn’t make it into the story. We’ll be picking some stuff off of the cutting room floor and putting it onto the blog—some of the pieces of the story that were interesting but not necessarily on point for the print piece.

What are you hoping Story Lab will do?

We’re hoping to demystify the work of a big, sometimes-anonymous institution and give readers a way to connect with the people who report and write the news.

We’re really going to try to have a number of stories each week that are, from conception to finish, formulated on Story Lab. A reporter says, “Here’s what I’m thinking of; here’s the story as we see it. What do you think?” I fully expect that stories will evolve.

Today’s post is from a reporter asking for help on tattoo etiquette. Maybe there’s a story there, maybe there isn’t. I’m not remotely wedded to our initial concept. But somewhere in that topic, I feel confident there’s an important story—people talking across generations within a workplace.

You have nine people currently involved in the project?

There are nine people, but in addition to that, we’re hoping that people all across the newsroom will use the site to take advantage of readers’ ideas and input.

Are those nine people full-time? Are any of them new media people, as opposed to coming from the print side? I know the dot-com and the newspaper are merging in January.

None of them were exclusively working for the Web site, but several have a lot of experience as bloggers and tweeters and folks doing a lot of online work.

I notice you’re aggregating a little yourselves, with a list of recommended stories.

We’re going to have a “pick story” every morning. Over the course of each week, some will come fresh from that morning’s news. We’ll also call folks’ attention to past articles: classics or stories that have new relevance. Tomorrow morning’s pick is going to be the Charlie Pierce profile of Tiger Woods that led Woods to stop doing real interviews.




4 comments

  1. David
    posted November 30, 2009 at 1:55 pm | permalink

    Good to see WP pursuing this

  2. posted November 30, 2009 at 7:59 pm | permalink

    David,

    Great piece. Though I suspect ::: after years of seeing the behind the scenes work of government, power, water, politics, manufacturing, journalism, etc. ::: that the novelty will wear away quickly once those who didn’t know how the sausage was made actually see how the sausage is made and find themselves longing for the days that they didn’t know how it was made.

    All my best,
    Rich

  3. Andrea Pitzer
    posted December 4, 2009 at 10:14 am | permalink

    Rich, I think there is a segment of the public that would very much like to get involved with and see how the sausage is made, but I’m not sure it’s the Post’s traditional readers. Which is why I suspect outreach to a new audience will be crucial.

    It is possible, of course, that you’re right. The folks over at CJR later covered the Story Lab startup, and apparently, they agree, though with different reasoning: http://www.cjr.org/the_kicker/you_dont_want_to_know_how_this.php

    Andrea

  4. posted April 28, 2010 at 10:47 am | permalink

    good initiative

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  2. by Progress in Show-Your-Work | Rhetorica on November 30, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    [...] Post. Here’s what Marc Fisher, enterprise editor for local news, had to say about it in an interview on Nieman Storyboard: Story Lab is a way for us to enter the world of crowdsourcing and also lift the veil on the way we [...]

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