Narrative News

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Gangrey’s Ben Montgomery wants to grab you by the shirt collar

By Narrative News October 29, 2009

[The second in an occasional series aimed at helping readers find online resources that focus on narrative journalism.] For more than four years, Gangrey.com has rounded up the best print narratives on a daily basis. Founder Ben Montgomery, who is also a reporter with Florida’s St. Petersburg Times, talks here about his personal motivation for starting his site and what he thinks narrative journalism can do. On what makes a good Gangrey story: Does it have something that’s surprising? Is it entertaining? Will it keep my attention? Is there some device being used that I’ve never seen before? And on the multimedia components for his latest print narrative: I couldn’t have pulled that off if it had required more effort from me. We wouldn’t have achieved the same level of—I don’t want to say excellence—the same level of story for either of those things, if both [the print story and the video] had required my attention. If journalists are required to write the story and compose the multimedia elements going into it, both parts tend to suffer. Read the full interview » Read more

Tom Shroder, former Washington Post Magazine editor, on dinner plates and well-done narrative

By Narrative News October 28, 2009

This week, I had a chance to talk by phone with Tom Shroder, who took a buyout from The Washington Post earlier this year. Shroder specializes in long-form narrative stories and recently launched his own editing site, and so I was curious what he would have to say about the current state of narrative journalism. In our conversation, he dishes on a common mistake made by narrative freelancers, talks about the genesis of one of the best newspaper narratives ever written, and a offers up a considered defense of poop jokes. Here's a taste: Where a lot of narrative journalism went wrong was that it became all about the writing, and not about the details for the story and the facts behind it. People felt they could throw some words at people and dazzle. But even good writers need to start with an exceptional set of facts. Read the full interview » Read more

How Twitter’s @longreads helps readers cozy up to digital narratives

By Narrative News October 16, 2009

[The first in an occasional series aimed at helping readers find other online resources that focus on narrative journalism.] Plenty of people are worried about the future of long-form journalism. Not Mark Armstrong. In April of this year, Armstrong started a “longreads” hashtag on Twitter in an attempt to create a community of people who could find and recommend great long-form stories available online. I spoke with him today, and he shared what motivated him to find a Twitter fan base for great online narratives: “I think right now is really a perfect time for long-form journalism because of the iPhone, because of these apps that are out there. It’s changed the online reading experience to going from little nuggets that you consume between doing other tasks to something you can sit back with to read in a relaxed setting or on a commute. These are really the places where long-form journalism can work.” Providing this kind of archive has been a part of the mission of our sister site, the Nieman Narrative Digest, and online stalwarts like Gangrey.com for more than three years. And here at Nieman Storyboard, we want to cheer on anything that keeps the narrative nonfiction flame burning. So even if you don’t use Twitter, visit @longreads to find links to stories people are recommending. Read the full interview » Read more

The future of print narratives

By Narrative News October 13, 2009

The following comments are taken from a talk given by Oregonian reporter Tom Hallman on September 25, 2009, at the American Association of Sunday and Feature editors. Hallman won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for “The Boy Behind the Mask.” For reporters, there has to be a change of attitude. Narrative was seen as being all about writing and having plenty of time to do stuff. Narrative reporters were seen as prima donnas. So for younger writers, they’re going to have to tell stories, to find stories that are going to be shorter… The truth is that we turned out stories that were not worth 40, 60 or 90 inches, where the openings were about impressing other writers more than reaching the readers. But you cannot tell a scenic story in 15 inches. It’s going to require a different kind of narrative: The presence of a writer’s voice but without the heavy first person references. My feeling is unless you’ve witnessed a murder, you don’t need to be in the story. It will take a more disciplined approach to the story, the realization that some things are going to have to go by the wayside. You’re going to have to use quotes, whether you want to or not, to condense the story. Read more » Read more

Interview with Mary Gaitskill: lessons from "Lost Cat"

By Narrative News October 6, 2009

Today we offer the second installment of a two-part look at narrative nonfiction from Granta’s summer issue. I spoke with author Mary Gaitskill about “Lost Cat,” her memoir on the disappearance of an adopted pet, and how she connected the loss to other events in her life. On the topic of using the piece to examine her own motives, she says, “I think that one’s own motives are interesting. Everybody’s motives are interesting… True feeling is often hidden under superficial or more attractive feelings; selfish motives are often wound up with truly altruistic ones.” She references the Grace Paley adage about fiction being a lie you tell to get to a bigger truth, and talks about the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. Fiction, she says, “is a lie if you believe it literally. It’s a story that didn’t happen, but it illuminates the idea. I express myself much more plainly or directly with nonfiction. With fiction, I am largely speaking the language of metaphor, which people frequently mistake for literal communication.” Read the full interview. Read more

Narrative, News and Conferences

By Narrative News October 3, 2009

Today the Online News Association wraps up its 2009 Conference in San Francisco. Thursday’s pre-conference video workshops from The Washington Post’s Chet Rhodes and Ford Fellow Richard Koci Hernandez sound particularly exciting, with sessions addressing when to use video (and … Read more