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Narrative in the City

The latest news is not hard to come by in New York City. If a computer or smartphone is (unbelievably) out of reach, breaking news can be found scrolling across a marquee, playing from television screens or emblazed on the covers from newspaper stands on every corner, 24 hours a day. What might be hard to come by, and what the newly-launched digital site Narratively hopes to uncover, are the untold stories—the lesser-known tales of human interest that take a bit longer to describe.

New York Times contributor Noah Rosenberg is the creator, editor and publisher of Narratively, and came up with the concept after noticing many New Yorkers craving an alternative to the constant flow of information that was hitting their smartphones 140 characters at a time.

“I’ve always been a journalist who leans towards human interest stories, really capturing the characters and color of cities,” he said. “I’ve been developing this idea for a digital platform that was a way to showcase human interest stories, and really show this unique and important kind of story telling that wasn’t getting the attention it deserved.”

Rosenberg approached fellow journalist Brendan Siegel with the idea, and since then contributors from publications like CNNThe New Yorker and NPR came together to brainstorm ideas from their own experiences covering news around the city.

“Any journalist always has a story, or five, in their back pocket that they’ve wanted to tell, but haven’t had the appropriate venue for,” Rosenberg said. “That’s my hope for Narratively, to create this forum for extremely high quality storytelling that isn’t necessarily tied to any particular news event.”

The site officially launched Sept. 7, and soon after hit (and surpassed) its goal to raise $50,000 with help from the crowd-sourced funding site Kickstarter. Social media chatter on gave the site the boost it needed to meet its goal, Rosenberg said.

“I think you and I would not be talking right now if it weren’t for social media,” he said. “Aside from the money, the thing I’m most excited about from Kickstarter is that we’ve been bombarded—in the best sense of the word—from all corners of the world, on Twitter, Facebook, email, from people who are excited about Narratively.”

He explained that the site’s long form journalism concept is not a new one, and referenced journalists like Norman Mailer who have subscribed to the practice of in depth storytelling for decades. But today’s technology is what sets Narratively apart.

“What we’re doing that is different is we’re using these digital tools and these platforms at our disposal to engage people in new and innovative ways,” Rosenberg said. “With the exorbitantly high penetration rate of people using Facebook and Twitter, it really allows us to spread the message while at the same time make use of feedback, criticism and ideas from places far beyond our own little niche here in New York.”

And it’s that niche that also distinguishes it from others like The Atavist and Byliner. At times the stories will be told via documentary film, photo essays or in audio form, but Narratively tells stories solely from a local angle. And Rosenberg hopes to eventually expand into other cities as well.

“The problem we’re trying to solve is there really hasn’t been anybody devoted to that kind of work at a local level,” he said. “Obviously, we think it’s our responsibility to perfect the platform for Narratively in New York first, [but] you can’t help but wonder if it would benefit a place that doesn’t have a vibrant media landscape and maybe has had their newspaper shuttered in the past couple of years. As soon as we can get the right partnerships created and the business model working, the sky’s the limit.”

Making the Pitch

While so far the site has been collecting stories from fellow journalists, all pitches and story idea from anyone are welcome, Rosenberg said.

“Our belief is there are so many stories out there, so we need some help and ideas are always great ammunition,” he said. “Maybe they’ll send you something about a quirky, fun event that’s happening on the weekend. Maybe we wouldn’t write about that, but maybe there’s some character there that they didn’t spotlight in their pitch, but you realize, ‘oh wow, the guy who’s putting this on has a really crazy backstory’. That’s the kind of thing we’d be looking for.”

Contact Information


Noah Rosenberg, editor and publisher


About Gina Joseph

Gina Joseph is a features writer for Cision Blog, and is also the digital engagement manager for Cision’s marketing department. She’s a book nerd, Detroit sports enthusiast, lover of cats, lifelong Phil Collins fan, and budding snowboarder. Find her on Twitter @gmg912.

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