New York-based in-depth multimedia outlet Narratively relaunched its site this week, unveiling a new design as well as a number of new features, including shorter content for readers to "snack on until they do have time for that bigger read".
Narratively first launched five months ago in New York City. It was based on an editorial model of longer-form, in-depth content carried under a weekly theme of local-interest, with one piece of content published each day, in a range of multimedia formats.
Following the launch of Narratively in September last year, it was approached by publishing platform Marquee, Narratively founder Noah Rosenberg told Journalism.co.uk.
"They basically caught wind of what we were doing at Narratively and thought we could be a great partner and also a showroom of sorts for what their platform's capable of and it's really been a match made in heaven."
He added that the site redesign which followed helped Narratively's stories come "alive on the page".
"They allow our stories to have full-width photos and embedded multimedia and really placing an emphasis on readability, aesthetics, engagement and ease-of-use and those are obviously all very core factors when you're trying to produce and really engage people with captivating long-form content on the web."
The relaunch was not just about a new look. It also sees the site stepping into new areas with its content, including the introduction of shorter content to complement the longer-form material posted daily on the site.
"Obviously not everyone can stop in their tracks at two in the afternoon and read a 5,000 word story," Rosenberg said.
"Someone might look on our website during the day and say 'okay, I don't have time for this 5,000 word story, what else do you have for me?"
This prompted the idea for Narratively Shorts, shorter pieces of content which provides users of the site with stories they can "snack on until they do have time for that bigger read".
"Obviously there are fantastic stories out there that deserve telling but maybe don't need to be told in 3,000 words ... Maybe they can be told in 800 words, which for many newspapers around the world is still a pretty hefty feature article.
"For Narratively we still can go in-depth, we can still maintain the Narratively style and aesthetic but we're giving people more of a snapshot and something they can consume on the go when they don't have the time to engage with a 20 minute long read or however long it would take them."
The site has already started publishing different types of shorter features, which in time will be grouped together by type.
The types of shorter features will include Narratively Shorts Original, which Rosenberg described as "original short stories, probably anywhere from 500 to 1200 words".
"Again, these are Narratively-type stories but stories that wouldn't necessarily carry a whole day on the main site, but we still think they're stories that deserve to be shared and told."
He added that "in addition to that we're going to be doing ongoing series, shorter original stories but following a character or a subject over the course of several weeks, or several months, or however long it might be."
Other features within the Narratively Shorts content will be a Shop Talk feature, which will offer interviews in different media formats with the "movers and shakers in the media and publishing world" who will be asked about "where the state of in-depth storytelling and long-form journalism stands".
Similarly, a feature titled Reveal will take the form of "a reporter's notebook, behind-the-scenes type piece". The plan with this is for a daily look at the observations and lessons of "the writers or photographers or film-makers from the main site", which they came across in the course of their work for Narratively.
Stepping outside New York
When Journalism.co.uk spoke to Rosenberg last year he said the plan was to bring Narratively to other cities across the world in the future, saying at the time that "every city has a story to tell, every person in every city has a story to tell, and we really want to capture those stories".
From tomorrow (Friday, 22 February) the site aims to "regularly be featuring hopefully one story a week from outside New York", he said this week.
This will help the site measure which areas readers are showing an interest in, beyond New York. Rosenberg added that they are also "starting to put the feelers out now informally throughout our network".
The site plans to launch a contributors page on the site which will outline planned future themes for the site and invite pitches "from other parts of the world".
"And much like we're looking for larger stories, from places like London, we'd also be looking for Narratively Shorts from London as well," Rosenberg added.
"There's a real opportunity there to start telling these really important and interesting stories but again aren't going to be told otherwise, aren't connected to the news cycle.
"But I think with this extension, with the new platform for shorter content, Narratively Shorts, we'll be able to give some of these stories the space and time they deserve as well."
The idea is that as the volume of content grows, as well as the cities being covered, the platform can in time enable users to view content based on specific cities.
"And perhaps, who knows, maybe a couple of years in or more or less time, there'll be so much interest for Narratively Detroit we'll have a reason to do the whole standalone site for Detroit only," Rosenberg said.
"But I think for now, we want to be able to test the waters and see where the interest lies and see if other people respond well to this local storytelling on a global scale that we have absolute faith in."
The business model
As well as the editorial changes taking place, Rosenberg said he is "really now growing the non-editorial side of the business too".
Narratively is currently "rolling out a system" of sponsorship, with the aim of attracting a monthly or bi-weekly sponsor for the site. The current sponsor is the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
"On top of that we're also trying to cultivate a Narratively agency, through which we'll create content, whether it's video or photo or articles for other people, whether it's brands, or non-profits, or other organisations", Rosenberg added.
There are a number of other opportunities being tried out by the site, including story syndication, live events, partnerships with other media businesses as well as a membership system which he said should roll out "within a couple of months".
At the launch of the site last year, Rosenberg talked to Journalism.co.uk about keeping the material free to access, supported by premium membership.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk after this week's relaunch Rosenberg said the site is "still in the starting stages", but added: "I'm not going to lie, I am also interested in the New York Times model".
He added: "I think there is an opportunity for people like us, smaller publishers, to make that work", in reference to a system which offered some free content allowance, as well as free access via referral links.
"At the end of the day it's really about giving the people who want to support us a reason to support us instead of just saying we're putting up a paywall here.
"We want to be able to enrich the experience and really create a sense of community around these stories that we worked so hard to tell."
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