What is a Human Interest Story?

An Excerpt from Be the News: A Guide to Going Viral With Your Human Interest Story
Many news stories are focused on reporting the facts, especially those facts which involve money, sex, drugs or rock and roll. You might find this gets both boring and depressing after a while unless you have specific interest in the details.

While we might have a lot of interest in the election results, a cure for cancer, a food recall, or what tomorrow’s temperature will be in your fair city, news media may want to add local flavor or want to put a “face” on the news by covering a story or topic more in depth.  This is sometimes referred to as the story-behind-the-story, the “better half” of a story, or the sidebar.

The human interest story may look at a news item in a more personal, emotional way. This is accomplished by pressing the flesh with people who have been directly affected by it or creating a report on one or several people facing challenges that it may have uncovered. The mission of covering these stories is to grab us by our emotional shirt collars and make us think and form an opinion.

It’s rare to see a nightly newscast or a morning newspaper without at least one human interest story. Most have a standard location for them, in broadcast, it is often the last story told before signoff. 

A newspaper might be covering post-hurricane financial losses and have an article that deals with statistics regarding them. To push past the grind, they might have a sidebar article on a few people in the town that is rebuilding.  The main topic is the hurricane, but the underlying emotional piece is how it affected people, like you and me. It gives a whole new paradigm to understanding the losses and puts them in a feeling perspective – beyond the facts.

In contrast to a regular and objective news story, the rules of journalism are bit looser, dare I say, even slightly more subjective with human interest topics. In some cases the story is so intense that the reporter barely needs more than the facts as they are reported. Other times, the story needs to be reigned in. A slant is sometimes created and then the job of the human interest story is to add perspective rather than the opposite happening.  

If yours is a human interest story, it doesn’t have to be deeply stirring and emotional, just on-topic or perhaps more for light laughs (if that falls within your goal for going wide with it to begin with). This is especially true when news venues are leading with gory, crime laden flavored journalism.  Stories that meet neither of those end goals can make it into the news just as a diversion to the hard stuff to make it more palatable to the viewer. If the lighter material wasn’t there, readers and viewers would sooner turn the page or the channel to avoid the ugly news.


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