An Interview with Noah Rosenberg, Founder of Narratively

Untapped CIties' Charmaine Poh talks with Noah Rosenburg of Narratively, a long-form journalism start-up based in NYC.

In today’s saturated media world, it seems that news and stories have been shortened and distilled to mere soundbites and snippets. One journalism startup based in New York City is trying to steer the system another way. Narratively, a long-form multimedia journalism platform, is “devoted to original, true and in-depth storytelling about New York,” through writing, photography, video and animation. It focuses on one theme a week, with a new story published every weekday. Launching this summer, Narratively is currently trying to fundraise through Kickstarter to get the project off the ground. Untapped Cities managed to talk to founder, Noah Rosenberg, about the exciting startup.

How did Narratively come about?  

I’ve always gravitated toward human-interest stories and a journalistic ideal that places an emphasis on craft, quality and story. These aren’t necessarily the types of stories you’ll find on the front page of The New York Times or at the top of an evening newscast but they inform you nonetheless. They provide a new way of looking at a city and understanding its people and places.

As someone who has a background not only in writing, but in documentary film and photography, I understand the importance of multidimensional storytelling ”” of presenting a story in the medium that is most appropriate for that particular piece.

And that was essentially the inspiration for Narratively several years ago ”” to create a platform for local features and human-interest reporting told in longform writing, short documentaries and photo essays, among other formats. We’d launch in New York and expand to other cities that were also hungry for this type of in-depth multimedia treatment.

Over time, Narratively evolved into what it is today with the help of the dozens of extraordinarily talented and dedicated contributors we’re fortunate to have on board. I’m particularly excited about our weekly themes and one-story-a-day model, which is a different approach to journalism, certainly on the local level. And I think it’s an approach that will engage audiences in new ways.

Photo from an audio slideshow featuring an Upper East Side woman with a collection of thousands of antique eye-glasses. (Elizabeth Herman for Narratively)

Who makes up Narratively?

I’m Narratively’s Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. For nearly two years I freelanced on a near-fulltime basis for The New York Times, in writing, photography and video. I’ve also worked for The Wall Street Journal and GQ and have had my work published by New York magazine, among other outlets. I’ve also produced documentaries and nonfiction content for CBS News Productions, reported on-camera for Channel One News and served as Digital Director at The Queens Courier chain of newspapers, for whom I also launched and edited L.I.C. Courier Magazine, an arts, culture and features publication covering Long Island City.

Our Managing Editor, Brendan Spiegel, is a travel, food and features writer who has worked extensively for The New York Times and New York magazine. His work has also appeared in The Washington Post, Wired and The Village Voice, among others. He’s been an editor at Congressional Quarterly and is also the editor and publisher of Endless Simmer, an independent food website.

Our contributors ”” writers, photographers, illustrators, animators, filmmakers, web developers, and others ”” have collectively worked for outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, New York magazine, CNN, NPR, The Atlantic, The Village Voice, GQ, the BBC, Travel + Leisure, Details, Time magazine, Wired, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Slate and Rolling Stone, among others.

One thing we all have in common is that we absolutely love this city and its stories.

The Narratively team in Fort Greene Park, filming their Kickstarter video.

Do you think this multimedia approach is the future of journalism?

There’s definitely been a sort of rebirth of in-depth, longform journalism in the past couple of years. Obviously, the craft itself is not new, but digital tools and platforms have enabled practitioners to take it in new directions and cultivate audiences in different ways.

Narratively’s approach, featuring one theme a week and one story a day, is just one outcome of that. We think that social media and new storytelling mediums, or mash-ups, will allow us to put an exciting, and personal, stamp on local journalism. And in the process, we’ll be able to engage our audience in new ways ”” placing an emphasis on interactivity and dialogue.

What are your goals for Narratively?  

My short-term goal is to succeed with our Kickstarter campaign, launch the website on schedule (in early September), and delight our core community of supporters from around the world.   I think if we do what we’re saying we’re going to do ”” uncover these rich narratives about New York that might not be told otherwise ”” we’ll be able to cultivate an engaged and devoted audience and reach new people. Obviously, there are business goals, too ”” to become viable and sustainable via the business plan we’ve developed, and to be able to pay our contributors what they deserve for the high-quality stories they’re producing.

Moving forward, my big goal is to succeed here in New York and expand Narratively to other cities. I really want to create a brand around Narratively, one that is focused on sharing the stories of a city in new and artistic ways.

A behind-the-scenes multimedia portrait of the Staten Island ferry. (Henry Jacobson for Narratively)

An intimate look at the life of a male stripper in New York. (Pearl Gabel for Narratively)

Where do you see Narratively in a few years?

I’d love to be successful enough in New York that we can expand to another city within two years. But I’m definitely not putting the cart before the horse. All of our time, energy and commitment is channeled into getting us off the ground in New York ”” the city that we all call home and think is hungry for Narratively.

Is there anything else you want to add?  

I see Narratively as a collaborative effort beyond our contributors. I think there are some really interesting opportunities to partner with existing media outlets, organizations, individuals and brands, and, in the process, help usher in a new era of engagement in local journalism.

Get in touch with the author @psxcharmaine

 Kickstarter, Staten Island Ferry

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