Is the future of story watching story unfold? Participating in story as it unfolds? The Washington Post’s Story Lab (which had a soft launch last week and official debut today) is about to find out. Marc Fisher, enterprise editor for local news, heads up a group of nine Post staffers assigned to the project (though not exclusively).

“We’re hoping,” says Fisher, “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.”

In its initial post, the Lab says it will offer four “elements”:

  • Readers can contribute to story concepts in development.
  • Readers can follow how stories are made: seeing what gets put in and what gets left out, and why.
  • A regular feature called “The Blowback” will follow what happens after a story runs in print and online.
  • A “Pick Story of the Day” provides a list of recommended reading (some Post stories, some not).

There’s not much yet to judge the site on. They’ve made some nice choices for visitors looking for good reading (especially Neely Tucker’s four-star profile of the quirky genius Edward Jones) and posted an initial call for input on a tattoo story assigned to Steve Hendrix.

In the long run, however, the Lab setup could provide insight into storytelling, from ethics to structure, and allow for a kind of open-endedness that lets stories evolve or continue in unexpected ways. My sense is that that its success will depend on how aggressively Post reporters work to engage readers via new channels (the brief profile of contributor Paul Schwartzman says “he does not tweet”), and the degree to which visitors want not only to know how the process works but also to dive into sausage-making themselves.

Read my brief interview with Fisher from this morning.

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