Creating collective attention in the public domain: Human interest narratives and the rescue of Floyd Collins

Gary Alan Fine*, Ryan D. White

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Building on Helen MacGill Hughes's News and the Human Interest Story, we examine how human interest stories create collective attention, essential for the establishment of a public or demos, and the limitations of that process. Although human interest stories are not unique in this regard, such stories encourage shared identification, important for social cohesion and the maintenance of a public sphere. However, since the embedded story is presented as one that is not perceived as having lasting societal impact, it directs attention away from political action. We present four processes through which human interest stories operate: (1) media placement - how media structure and occupational interests produce stories that capture reader loyalty, (2) identification potential - the creation of scenes and personae that audiences feel they "know" and with which they can identify, (3) narrative arc - the process by which a story maintains reader interest, exposing conflicts and changes in likely outcomes, and (4) discursive space - the role of moral issues, provoking discussion and the possibility of active involvement of audiences. To explore these processes we analyze the case of Floyd Collins, the Kentucky caret trapped for seventeen days in 1925, and detail the associated media frenzy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-85
Number of pages29
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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