Startup meets success with “Slow Storytelling”
October 4, 2013
Tucked away part-time in a home office and part-time at Smooch Cafe in Fort Greene, Brooklyn-based storytellers Noah Rosenberg and Brendan Spiegel are on a mission to tell good stories and fill a void they see in modern journalism and the rampant use of social media today. Their medium? Narratively, a digital platform for original and in-depth stories shared through long-form articles, photo essays, audio, and short documentary films.
In Spiegel’s words, Narratively’s purpose is to generate “good stories that are well-told and carefully crafted with a human element. There doesn’t have to be a news tag and no one has to die; it doesn’t even have to be a specific time of year for it to run.”
Rosenberg, who is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Narratively, and Spiegel, its Editorial Director, started the company in September 2012 and launched in February of this year at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO to much fanfare. (“We almost got shut down… no, we did get shut down. There were, like, 500 people and it was a fire hazard”). Their popularity is no front either, with TIME Magazine ranking them among the top 50 best websites of 2013.
Leading a team of 300 contributing writers, editors, and multimedia journalists – employees work remotely and 75% of them live in Brooklyn – their dedication to the borough is bonafide.
“I wear a badge,” Rosenberg states boldly, “I never lived in Manhattan and I’m proud of that fact. There’s such an energy here and it sounds so cliched, but this has been such a great opportunity and great place to meet people, to start a business, to have great meals. It’s literally the world at your fingertips. Nowadays, Brooklyn is taking the world by storm.”
Yet Narratively’s interest in Brooklyn transcends its reputation as a trendy, creative borough (although they do gush about happenstance encounters with video producers and writers at Smooch Cafe). “There is so much to Brooklyn,” Rosenberg says, “We’ve done a story on the recovery efforts in Coney Island and a theatre that has been there for decades [that] is getting back on its feet. We’ve done stories where we’ve gone into far flung neighborhoods that people aren’t referring to when they think ‘Brooklyn.’”
Having recently attracted a Berlin and Sydney following, Narratively’s model of “slow storytelling” – one theme a week, one story a day – resonates with the international community of writers. Rosenberg and Speigel are both equipped with journalism and editorial backgrounds, having served as freelancers and contributors to major publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and even founding a food blog (Spiegel’s Endless Simmer). While the Internet enables sharing of real-time news, “everyone is chasing the same story and re-reporting” cites Spiegel. What Narratively does successfully is complement existing media through flexibility in its production – thorough storytelling and accessibility to readers through a user-friendly site and high-quality photographs.
“You can pitch your editor a feature story idea about a tug-boat captain, and you would be lucky if they gave you 900 words for it,” says Rosenberg who is referring to a story about Captain Dan Berg’s treasure trove adventure, “In our case, we can do a 5,000 word story or 10-minute documentary film. We don’t have time constraints or space limitation that other outlets have.”
Producing quality stories also requires consideration of its format. “We have the responsibility to tell stories the best way it needs to be told and that’s why we tell stories in short films, long form, photo essays and audio,” says Rosenberg, “How we can maximize the potential impact of this story? We ask ourselves that question all the time.”
Narratively believes in the beauty of everyday anecdotes and the ability of individuals to share profound stories, whether from the perspective of an antique eyewear collector on the Upper East Side or a young whip-cracking Australian. Like their subject matters, the weekly themes are equally varied – “Intimate with Strangers,” “Do-Gooders,” and “Keep Calm and Carry On” are a few past examples.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to give these stories a life that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Speigel. “Sometimes the location is irrelevant. New York is a wonderful backdrop, but we’re telling these richly human stories that can take place anywhere.”