Monday, October 7, 2013

The newcomers, the survivors, the dead: The state of narrative journalism online

This site has gone without an update for two and a half years, but at least it's still online. Unfortunately, some other websites and institutions devoted to narrative journalism or related endeavors have been neglected or discontinued.

But that doesn't mean narrative journalism has vanished. Newspapers and magazines release narratives online and offline every day. If you want proof, just check out curation services such as The Browser, The Feature, Longform or Longreads.

And happily, new websites have emerged to disseminate original narrative journalism or journalism that falls in the larger long-form bucket. More on that later; first comes the bad news.

The great email list WriterL has wound down after years of debates, discussions on stories and industry shop talk from respected reporters and writers.

Dispatches, a noble attempt at selling long-form stories in high-quality print format on a quarterly basis, appears to be defunct after a five-issue run.

The Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism was canceled back in 2009. has signed off after delivering stories of interest from the European perspective every week for more than seven years.

It's a good thing Gangrey, that blog showcasing narratives from Tampa Bay Times reporters and other writers, is still going strong. This year journalist and Ashland University professor Matt Tullis has been interviewing reporters of noteworthy stories in podcasts carrying the Gangrey name.

Nieman Storyboard continues to churn out interviews and other material on a regular basis, indicating that the Nieman Foundation at Harvard still sees value in narrative.

Premium sites The Atavist, Byliner and Matter are still operating. So are the New York Times' and the Boston Globe's compelling photo blogs, Lens and The Big Picture, respectively.

Grantland, it still goes. And Pat's Papers emails still land in email inboxes every weekday. Thanks, Pat!

Maintenance of valuable resources like these merits praise. But what's more exciting is the arrival of new sites focusing on narrative or long-form journalism.

Epic burst onto the scene this year. So did The Big Roundtable. Narratively showed up last year to tell long stories about people and stuff in New York, and Mission & State opened this year to roll out narratives on Santa Barbara, Calif.

Also relatively new are the travel-oriented Roads & Kingdoms, the aptly named Bitter Southerner and the thought-provoking Aeon.

BuzzFeed, a producer of content purpose-built for viral sharing, has established a special page for its long-form journalism, BuzzReads, to keep it from getting lost among all the listicles.

The Riveter now highlights long-form journalism by women.

Sports fans can celebrate SB Nation's push into long-form territory.

Political wonks can take heart in Politico's plans to launch a long-form-heavy print and online magazine this fall. And Business Insider has long-form ambitions of its own.

There are a few reasons to think this could be a new age of narrative journalism. Some companies charge readers by the story, hoping each and every one will sell well. Well-heeled outlets occasionally deploy teams of people to develop multimedia elements and web design that can enrich the experience of reading a long story and capture the attention of a larger audience ("Snow Fall" is a prominent example of this trend). Entrepreneurs can now run crowdfunding campaigns to launch long-form sites (Matter and Narratively chose this route).

If we have in fact entered a new age, then it should have its own batch of top writers, with their own voices and methods and quirks, whose work could one day be anthologized (online, obviously) in the style of "The New Journalism" or, more recently, "The New Kings of Nonfiction." So here is a question: Who ought to be considered for inclusion in this group?

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