Narrative journalism


Byliner CEO excited about ‘opportunity to discover some great writers’

People used to view technology as a threat to longform journalism. But in the past year, tools like Read it Later, Instapaper and The Atavist have helped change that mentality by making it easier to find, save and share longform stories online. and, which curate longform stories for online reading, have also helped.

These tools and sites are valuable resources, but they’re largely geared toward readers, not writers.

Byliner, which launched the full version of its site this morning, is different. It’s a publishing company and a social network that’s aimed at both writers and readers. The name Byliner suggests as much; it’s less about the product (longform) or reading experience (long reads), and more about the writer behind the product. Read more


NY Times’ Abramson: ‘Long-form narrative is not only alive but dancing to new music’

Forget the digital doomsayers, said Jill Abramson. “Long-form narrative is not only alive but dancing to new music.”

Other prominent journalists echoed The New York Times managing editor’s optimism about thriving in a Twitter age at Boston University’s annual narrative journalism conference last weekend.

Abramson said devices like tablets and iPads give long-form narrative new ways to reach new audiences. She said her paper focuses on integrated storytelling in series like “A Year At War,” with multimedia “freshening” the story by letting readers “see, feel and almost taste” soldiers’ and families’ experiences.

She added that new tools can’t trump journalism basics. Wary of “narrow specialists,” she worries that journalism schools’ new technology training may detract from traditional shoe leather reporting values.

Abramson, a former Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, said she hires “passionate storytellers who go the extra reporting mile.” Her mantra: “report and report some more.” Her favorite example: Gay Talese’s classic 1966 Esquire story, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.”

The 15,000-word profile includes a short scene in which the singer hassles a young writer whose footwear offends him. Read more

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Do we want a ‘narrative,’ or reliable facts about bin Laden’s death?

Something interesting has happened since news broke that Osama bin Laden had been shot and killed. We have already received different accounts from government officials about what happened during the American raid on the compound in Pakistan.

These accounts are being referred to as “narratives,” and some journalists are concerned with the implications and connotations of that word. NBC’s Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd tweeted that he found it “odd and a tad troubling” that the Department of Defense has used the word in such a way.

In a live chat, which you can replay below, I talked with Ben Montgomery, a narrative writer at Poynter’s St. Petersburg Times, about the use of the word narrative, and how it differs from a report. Read more


How ‘Hamlet’s BlackBerry’ & ‘Think Quarterly’ show why we should stop toggling between screens and stretch our minds

Google, the company that helped create our culture of constantly clicking, has unveiled Think Quarterly, a new magazine aimed at creating “breathing space in a busy world.”

Too bad we didn’t know about this last week. If any group needed to rein in their digital connectedness, it was the 19,000 attendees at the South by Southwest Interactive festival.

For five days, we streamed from one nerdy panel to another, up and down escalators, never looking up from our smartphones. At night we went from party to bar, toggling between our companions, Twitter and group texting services.

The challenge at an event like South by Southwest is that you spend all your time packing new ideas into your head and not enough time processing them. Read more


Girl versus virus: The 4 things I learned about journalism when I became the story

Nearly two years ago, my boss suggested that I turn myself into a story.

I was halfway through a grueling round of experimental treatment for hepatitis C, a potentially-fatal liver disease I contracted as an infant. My experience had all the trappings of compelling journalism. There was a simple central tension — girl versus virus — and a simple, central question: Will she be cured? Plus, HCV is a sweeping, under-reported epidemic with the potential to cost billions of dollars and millions of lives.

The journalist in me knew all this was newsworthy, but it was Concord Monitor Editor Felice Belman who urged me to use myself as a source.

Over lunch one day, she sketched out her idea: a heavily researched, first-person narrative told in short, serial installments. Read more

Willie Mae Norton, who raised Hydra Lacy Jr. from the time he was 12, holds a picture of him from the 1980s. (Kathleen Flynn/St. Petersburg Times)

Coverage of officer shooting models 6 ways to turn breaking news into a narrative

In the aftermath of a shooting that killed two police officers, journalists at the St. Petersburg Times were searching for answers.

What kind of relationship did killer Hydra Lacy Jr. have with his wife Christine, who shortly before the shootout told officers that he was hiding in the attic? And why did he kill himself and the officers in a house that the city has since razed?

A team of reporters dug through court records, revisited the crime scene and interviewed Lacy’s friends and the woman he raped years ago. Their work came together in a 3,400-word narrative that ran in last Sunday’s paper. I talked with Ben Montgomery, who wrote the story, and his editor Kelley Benham to find out what they learned about turning a breaking news story into a narrative. Read more


How Technology Is Renewing Attention to Long-form Journalism

When we’re constantly inundated with information via e-mail, text messages, push alerts, tweets and Facebook updates, it’s hard to make time for that 5,000-word New Yorker essay we bookmarked or the serial narrative we keep telling ourselves we’ll read but never do.

For as much as technology can distract us from long-form journalism, though, it can also be a gateway into it.

Five guys — Nate Weiner of Read It Later, Marco Arment of Instapaper, Max Linsky and Aaron Lammer of, and Mark Armstrong of @LongReads — have found ways to use Web tools to renew attention to long-form journalism, increase its shelf life and make it easier for people to consume and share it.

The tools they’re using to create an immersive, focused environment for reading are the same ones that challenge our ability to avoid distractions at work and when we’re out with friends: mobile apps, websites and Twitter. Read more

0 Comments Uses Slide Show for In-Depth Narrative Story

Like most investigative reporters, the culmination of Bill Dedman‘s reporting is generally an article or a package of articles. As he worked on his latest project, he collected images and documents that helped tell the story of a wealthy, elderly heiress who owns several expansive homes but doesn’t appear to live in them.

When he was ready to write, he decided that, rather than craft a 2,500-word story, he’d rely on the images he had shown to his family and coworkers, accompanied by captions. The slide show would be an experiment, a way to see if in-depth reporting could be presented in a way that would reach far more people.

Judging by the response, it may have been. Dedman told me that he’s received 500 e-mails from readers about the story, entitled, “The Clarks: an American story of wealth, scandal and mystery.” That’s more than he’s received for any story he’s done in 30 years. Read more


Former Journalists Start Coaching, Consulting Services

When Tom Shroder took a buyout from his job as editor of The Washington Post Magazine last September, he didn’t want to leave behind the perks of life in the newsroom.

Despite the cutbacks, there was a lot that kept him energized — the critical thinking that comes with editing long-form narratives, the relationships he built with writers, the desire to help people tell their stories.

Hoping to keep this energy alive, Shroder created Story Surgeons, a coaching service that lets him continue to work with writers outside of a newsroom. Since starting the service in October, he’s coached dozens of people with varying writing abilities. And he’s gotten paid — anywhere from $22 to $10,000 per client.

His service is one example of how former journalists are putting the years of experience they gained in newsrooms to good use by pursuing independent, financially sound ventures. Read more


Authors Describe What it Takes to Move from Short-Form Journalism to Historical Books

Top reporters detailed at a Boston University conference this week how they moved from deadline to years-long projects and blended storytelling and research skills to bring the past alive.

Isabel Wilkerson, who won a Pulitzer Prize at The New York Times and now directs B.U.’s narrative nonfiction program, made a point that many echoed throughout the day: Journalism and history borrow from each other. “We want compelling narrative reporting to try to make sense of a complicated world,” she said.

Pulitzer-winner Tim Weiner told the B.U. audience that he turned his CIA beat reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times into a book by keeping his notes and delving into tens of thousands of declassified documents. The result was “Legacy of Ashes,” a history of the CIA that won a National Book Award. Read more

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