A Human Interest Economy: The Strategic Value of Turning Ordinary People into Exemplars in the News Media
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionJournalism Studies. 2020, 21 (8), 1093-1108. 10.1080/1461670X.2020.1720520
This article explores how personal experience in the form of human interest stories has become a road to visibility, legitimacy, and impact for organizational actors and interest groups. Focusing on news media representations of health, where patients and their experiences with disease play an increasingly central role across media platforms, the article theorizes the hierarchies and dilemmas of a “human interest economy” in which ordinary people become exemplars, based on the authenticity of their experience, and their ability to attract attention and support. Departing from 38 interviews with management and communications professionals in Norwegian health interest groups, the article analyzes how organizations that provide exemplars to the news media adapt to and negotiate generic human interest formats that favor certain diseases, victims, and storylines over others. By discussing how the normative claims of immediate and authentic bottom-up voices in the news media tie in with less visible and more implicit strategic interests, the article adds to the theorizing about the role and power of ordinary people in the news, and how they serve the strategic interests of organizational actors that liaise between journalists and participants.