Narratively’s Noah Rosenberg on monetizing long-form journalism

Noah HEADSHOTWhile many newspapers have cut back on long-form journalism due to shrinking page counts and budgets, stories running thousands of words are finding a home online thanks in part to platforms like Longreads and Narratively.

Last summer, a group of New York City journalists led by Noah Rosenberg raised over $50,000 on Kickstarter to launch Narratively, an online storytelling platform focusing on New York City’s untold stories. Since launching in September, the site has published long-form articles, photos, and multimedia work created by media professionals with credits at The New York Times, CNN, NPR, and other top-tier publications. Websites including Salon.com, BuzzFeed, and Huffington Post New York regularly syndicate or feature Narratively stories. Earlier this month, TIME named Narratively to its 50 Best Websites 2013.

Rosenberg, Narratively’s founder, is a frequent New York Times contributor and a spring 2012 fellow at The City University of New York’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. Ebyline recently chatted with Rosenberg about his vision for the platform, Narratively’s evolving business model, and more. What follows is an excerpt from that conversation, edited for clarity and brevity. 

How has your vision for Narratively changed since you launched?

We launched here in New York and then after X amount of months we planned to add an addition in Los Angeles or Paris or wherever. I’m still interested in that concept, but I’m also interested in potentially creating a parallel site that’s more global.

Narratively’s Kickstarter video, which describes Rosenberg’s original concept

The core principles of doing these beautiful untold stories that aren’t getting the time they deserve elsewhere and of course exploring this one theme a week and one story a day is a huge part of what we do. At the same time we’re a small and agile organization so we’re really tuned in strongly to what our readers want. We’re certainly willing to address that and make any changes that we think are necessary. 

Has your focus shifted beyond New York?

Back in February, we started occasionally publishing a story from outside New York. That’s a way for us to test the waters and see what the response is. Are there different bloggers picking us up because of that? Are different publications requesting the syndicated content because of that?

As long as these stories are really beautiful stories that we think deserve to be told, I think there’s a place for them on Narratively. We certainly don’t want to restrict our platform to New York only so the big challenge, one we welcome right now, is just trying to figure out how these other places factor into that overall direction of Narratively.

What is Narratively’s business model?

We’ve been selling ads. Much like we have this one theme a week, one story a day approach, we’re also working with one brand at a time exclusively on the website as a way really to potentially deliver an impact to them.

But what’s really grown actively in the past month or so has been this content agency we’re building. We have this devoted, talented community of three hundred plus writers, filmmakers, photographers and illustrators. We’ve been leveraging this community and taking on projects for outside clients. Everyone nowadays is a content producer but not everyone has the capability in house to create that compelling content. It’s a win-win because it allows us to generate higher paying work for our contributors and subsidize this editorial engine we’ve built. That’s something that has eclipsed advertising overnight and it’s continuing to grow rapidly.

Syndication is something we’re trying to grow as well. Beyond that, our monthly event series is ticketed and sponsored as well. I’d love to be able to kind of harness the power of our whole community and do Narratively storytelling workshops where we can approach brands and companies and institutions and teach them the craft of storytelling that we’ve perfected here.

Can other freelancers contribute to Narratively?

A hundred percent yes. That’s something that’s really amazing to me is that this weekly or bi-weekly email we send out to our contributor list constantly is growing. We’re adding new names every single week. We’ve created an online contributors form that’s soon going to live on our website.

One thing that’s really important to me is that not only do we have people on board who have written for the New Yorker and for Vanity Fair, we also are giving a voice and opportunity to the younger storytellers who maybe haven’t gotten that New York Times byline yet but have the passion and the know-how to be at that top level. In a way we can become a launching pad for their careers as well.

Featured image caption: Dr. Dave Ores, who offers pro-bono tattoo removal for ex-cons. (Photo by Per Liljas/Narratively)  

Free Ebyline Guide

Don't Let a Bad Content Writer Damage Your Brand

The new content marketing basics anyone can use

Subscribe to the latest content strategies...

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.

css.php