In the on-going “to be or not be” dilemmas faced by news organisations, the trend has been to focus on how to improve existing products. Much is said about how business models need to change and how the digital age creates new demands for mainstream news products. We hear of the companies which have decided to call it a day or are downsizing radically.
What about new entrepreneurial initiatives? Can new disruptive competitors emerge from outside established organisations? In a city like New York, where media companies come in all shapes and sizes, it is certainly a challenge to stand out and be counted as an innovative news business practice.
The newly launched website Narrative.ly makes an interesting innovation case study. The digital publication does not opt for the standard traditional breaking news format or politics and entertainment stories. Instead, it sets out to undertake high-quality, feature reporting using a multimedia story telling approach.
In a competitive digital environment everyone is rushing frantically to be the first to break news on trending social platforms. It is a constant race for scoops and interviews with the usual suspect politicians and celebrities. Narratively proposes to do pretty much the opposite. Long format and in-depth narratives about New York City and its undiscovered characters, is the format proposed by this publication. It’s not the average 100 stories a day which works for this project but one, multimedia story a day.
The founder of Narratively, Noah Rosenberg describes himself as “a passionate storyteller across all media platforms”. Rosenberg, a freelance journalist and contributor to The New York Times, started raising funds on the crowd funding platform Kickstarter. At the time of writing, the project had raised almost $54, 000 with backing by over 800 funders.
In the project’s Kickstarter video, journalism professor Jeff Jarvis describes Narratively as a “chance to rethink content, storytelling, and journalism and to leap frog the old media companies that are still trying to figure it out.”
Just a couple of weeks after its launch, it is worth exploring the different features which make this publication particularly innovative and possibly a model for future journalism:
360 degrees story telling: Narratively focuses on a singular story everyday and on a different city inhabitant. Here it is not the format that comes first, but the story. How can the story best be told? This can vary from a short documentary, to a photo essay, to an audio piece, to the long form article. This approach recognises the changing needs of tablet and smart phone users who want and have an opportunity to discover different content and aspects of a story.
A collaborative approach: The project relies on a network of freelancers, who have worked for leading organisations such as The New York Times and the BBC. These collaborators know the city and share an enthusiasm to tell untold stories of individuals who experience cities in unique ways.
Community engagement: On Narratively, Fridays are devoted to behind-the-scenes coverage and user generated content in the section called The Park Bench. The site engages with the New York community on a hyper local level through the types of stories it publishes. It sets out to engage with users by providing multi-media content, curating comments and crowd sourcing content from residents.
Flexible and adaptable: Each city has its stories, peculiarities and characters. This makes the Narratively format an adaptable one. What has started off as a publication centred around New York, could grow into a digital brand for city storytelling all across the world.
Whether this innovative concept will reach far and wide, is yet to be seen. However Narratively’s approach to relate stories organically is a promising start and an interesting model for news and digital story telling.