Narratively: long, slow journalism from The City that Never Sleeps

Report by Alex Klaushofer.

The new longform website Narratively has attracted interest ‘beyond our wildest dreams’, according to founder Noah Rosenberg. Even before its launch earlier this month, coverage of the New York-based magazine has been wide, while expressions of support have come via social media from around the world.

Such enthusiasm, thinks Rosenberg, is a measure of the appetite for in-depth storytelling not dictated by the 24/7 news agenda, and of a desire to get under the skin of a city such as New York which could easily be replicated in other parts of the world.

‘I’ve realised we have a readership which is beyond our base in New York,’ he says. ‘There are people who want the “slow journalism” approach'”.

The finance for the first six months came via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Rosenberg looked at other quality journalism projects and saw that longform science journalism project Matter, for example, hit its $50 000 target within a few days.

Rosenberg decided to adopt a similar approach for the start-up, and $53 000 was raised for Narratively. Meanwhile, the fundraising process created considerable publicity: ‘It’s not just a way to generate the money,’ he says. ‘It’s also a way to generate a tremendous amount of exposure.’

Narratively backers can choose from a series of packages which give you more involvement the more you pay. $10, for example, buys the opportunity to vote on the themes to be covered during the launch period, while for $10 000 the Narratively team will fly out and spend a week covering ‘under-the-radar human-interest stories from the location of your choice’. (No one, so far, has gone for this.) In between, are a range of packages which include dining events, customised products and the services of a photojournalist.

The Kickstarter appeal secured around 800 backers, a number of whom, Rosenberg admits, are close friends and family. The rest are made up of journalists passionate about the project and consumers looking forward to a good, in-depth read. The pledges he’s proudest to have secured, he says, are the lowest amounts, indicating a vote of confidence from those who don’t have much cash.

The project has been in-the-gestation for the past couple of years, as Rosenberg has gradually been getting other media professionals on board. Weekly editorial meetings in a New York cafe have attracted a dozen to forty journalists all keen to contribute. To date, no one has been paid for their work, including Rosenberg, who has been supporting himself on a modest freelance income supplemented by savings.

But from now on, he says, contributors will be paid ‘a few hundred dollars a piece’, a rate which he hopes will rise to the level of the fees paid in the freelance marketplace.

How far is this is feasible will depend on the success of the three-pronged business model designed to sustain Narratively after the first six months. Discussions with advertisers begin this week. Then comes the possibility of syndication to a global media prepared to pay for high-quality content about The Big Apple. But the key plank is to be a premium membership/subscription package which will buy readers access to exclusive content such as a monthly ebook, interactive city guides, and live storytelling events.

The scheme is designed to create the ‘sense of community’ – aka brand relationship – between publication and readership that has long been at the heart of established media, while quietly selling non-editorial products as part of the package.

Further down the road, Rosenberg envisages an occasional print edition and expansion into other cities.

What’s not to like? As is so often the case in this brave new world of media pioneers, the editorial aspirations are laudable and there is doubtless an appetite among readers for what the Narratively team can produce. It remains to be seen whether the money will follow.

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