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A Bunch of Distractive Writing

Why is it that American journalists are so much better at storytelling journalism than Europeans?

That's the key question that Anu Nousiainen, a features writer at Finland's leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, addresses in her research paper entitled, A Bunch of Distractive Writing: Why has fact-based and extensively reported American style narrative journalism not gained ground in Europe?

As Anu writes, "American readers are pampered by extensively reported, fact-based and very precise narrative journalism that is scarce in Europe. Where it does exist in European publications, it's practiced by individual journalists who barely know what to call the kind of work they do and who have to go to the U.S. for more training.

My paper asks why narrative journalism is so clearly an American journalistic form and why it hasn't gained ground in Europe. It looks at the Anglo-American history of narrative journalism and the European tradition of reportage.

It then focuses on the overall recognition of journalism and journalist education in the U.S. and in Europe, and the misunderstandings many European journalists have about narrative journalism."

Among the many factors that account for the difference, Anu mentions the issue of overall recognition of journalism in society.

She writes that

In the U.K. it seems to have been common to devalue journalism as a creative profession, and I’m afraid this is still the case today in many other European countries, too.

There is the confrontation of a cultivated elite audience (literature) vs. an uncultivated mass audience (journalism) and a strong belief that only fiction can be literature: thus, to be a writer is to be a novelist – even though the audience of a mediocre writer is usually much smaller than that of an average journalist.

We're still a long way from granting serious recognition to the literary qualities of the best journalism. If we did that, would there be more long-form narrative journalism?