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Fort Greene editor gives writers chance to do long-form journalism

Entrepreneurial journalist starts site for untold stories

Brooklyn Daily
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In the age of Twitter, quick-shot blog updates and 24-hour cable news headlines, one journalist wants to step back and take the long, slow view.

Fed up with long-form journalism losing ground to shorter, snappier pieces, Fort Greene resident Noah Rosenberg wondered if there was still a place for human interest stories for an audience that seems to have a vanishing attention span.

“I was afraid the stories that I love so dearly would continue to get brushed aside,” said Rosenberg. “With desperation, opportunity is born.”

Not unlike Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams,” Rosenberg decided that if he built it, they would come. So, after graduating from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism’s one-semester entrepreneurial journalism certificate program, he launched his website, “Narrative.ly,” in September 2012.

That’s not “Narratively.com,” mind you, but “Narrative.ly,” hosting the site on Lybian servers to cleverly incorporate the country’s national domain designation into the site’s name.

The site’s mission statement is to tell New York’s untold stories — and as of February, from other cities as well — with the most appropriate medium. This means journalists aren’t restricted to just long-form written narratives, but they can, and are encouraged, to use photographs, videos, audio clips, and illustrations.

The emphasis here is on “slow journalism.” For Managing Editor Brendan Spiegel, that means quality over quantity.

“There is just way too much reporting out there,” he said, “and not nearly enough good reporting.”

Each week, the site chooses a theme, such as “Summer in the City” or “The Upper Crust.” Five stories are published each week — one per day — and range from the tale of a gay male escort meeting his first female client to gentrification in Crown Heights .

“We’re producing compelling stories about people,” said Rosenberg. “[We’re] uncovering new ideas, new quirks, new philosophies of humanity that aren’t being told anywhere else.”

They seem to be doing something right. Narratively recently took the No. 6 spot in Time magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2013.

Rosenberg, who has spent five of his eight years in Brooklyn as a Fort Greene resident, cites the borough’s energy and diversity — not to mention its plethora of writers — as advantages for Narratively.

“We could not have found a better place to get this up and running,” he said.

Narratively has 17 core employees and 300 contributors, many of whom have written for top media outlets such as The New York Times and NY Magazine, including journalists Rebecca White and Daniel Krieger. However, Rosenberg, who serves as the site’s editor-in-chief, hopes Narratively will soon be able to give inexperienced journalists a place to break into the business.

As with many start-ups, it’s not always smooth sailing. Cash flow can be tight sometimes. The site takes on outside projects to make ends meet, such an animated video for General Electric and profiles of storytellers for Contently, a website geared toward journalists and publishers. Clients hire Narratively collectively, and the site staffs the projects from its pool of contributors, who also get a cut of the profits. Narratively also sells ads on the site — its clients include CUNY’s graduate journalism program and the 92nd Street Y — and holds monthly ticketed events, which have ranged from a burlesque show with a multimedia storytelling component to screenings and discussions of the site’s films. Rosenberg said Narratively plans to introduce a paid membership soon which will offer readers perks such as additional content and members-only events. It has also started syndicating stories to outside publishers.

Presentation is a top priority. The editors constantly work on how best to package content so visitors will be encouraged to read it. There is an emphasis on the visual layout of stories, and they use striking photography and multimedia elements to make the content come alive on the page.

The fact that Rosenberg was able found Narratively (and get the financial backing to do it) in an age when so much about the future of journalism is unknown is a positive sign that there is still room for journalists to learn about and experiment with the craft, according Jeff Jarvis, director of CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.

“It’s really awe-inspiring to see students come in with an idea and then develop it,” he said. “That gives me a lot of hope.”

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