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Short Story Long
Lauren Smiley | Photo: Wikimedia Commons | June 6, 2013
The return of a lost art: reading.
As proud as Bay Area folks are about being ground zero of the digital revolution, we must also own the fact that the region has played a large role in the implosion of traditional journalism—from Craigslist classifieds that dried up newspapers to 140-character tweets and chatty blog posts that pass for news. But now, lengthy, well-crafted stories—known in the biz as long-form journalism—are creeping back into the media landscape. In November, even New York’s BuzzFeed, which embeds ad “stories” penned by Captain Morgan rum and Durex condoms right into its news stream, launched a section for magazine-length tales. And lately, the Bay Area has emerged as a major long-form contender with the following outlets.
Your own personal reading scout: The Pandora for readers, Byliner curates narrative work by your favorite writers—and then finds more like it. “We can turn a fan of Jonathan Ames into a lifelong reader,” says cofounder Mark Bryant. The company’s Byliner Originals are commissioned works of fiction and nonfiction that are sold as e-books for a few bucks a shot. Including pieces by the likes of Jon Krakauer and Amy Tan, Byliner often claims several of the titles on the Kindle eBooks bestseller list.
The brains: Former Outside editors Bryant and John Tayman, joined by a small staff that outgrew its Presidio digs and moved into a converted SoMa warehouse space this year.
Big break: “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” a story by John Branch copublished with the New York Times, nabbed the 2013 Pulitzer for feature writing.
Price tag: Byliner has a lot of content that you can access for free, but has rolled out a $9.99-a-month subscription service for premium stories and e-books. Look for Android and iPhone apps by summer.
One tale at a time: The elegantly crafted tales, released one a week (as text and podcast), are the stuff of literary journals—from heartbreaking breakups to Tenderloin violence to a face-off between the family dog and a Santa Cruz raccoon.
The brains: Editor Mitra Parineh, a Palo Alto native and writer, reads every submission herself, while “hustler” Avanti Prahlad handles the business end. Do people want to read good writing and pay for it? So far, about 1,000 subscribers do.
Music to your ears: In addition to the text, each story is read by a professional actor in a podcast, an innovation inspired by Parineh’s avid radio listening during commutes in Los Angeles and on Caltrain. “Sometimes I just couldn’t concentrate on the train, so I’d want to listen—and it had to start and finish in the time it took me to get somewhere.”
Price tag: $5 a month.
Scientific deep dives: Initially funded by an astoundingly successful Kickstarter campaign—$140,000 in about a month— the startup publishes one 6,000- to 8,000-word story a month on a science or tech topic.
The brains: Jim Giles and Bobbie Johnson, two science and tech reporters for publications including the Atlantic and Wired, who couldn’t figure out, says Giles, “why, when we pick up the New Yorker, aren’t there more science stories in there?”
Typical reads: Topics have included how violent environments can influence the activity of a person’s genes and a man who suffers from a condition that makes him want to amputate a healthy limb— and who found a surgeon in Asia to do it.
Big break: Matter was acquired this spring by Medium, an online publishing platform from Twitter cofounder Evan Williams.
Price tag: Less than a single iTunes song—99 cents.
A space for togetherness: This “creative nonfiction cooperative,” which opened this year at Intersection for the Arts, hosts readings and nonfiction workshops.
The brains: Peg Alford Pursell, producer of the “Why There Are Words” literary reading series in Sausalito, and Graham Gremore, who produces the LitUp Writers humor reading series in San Francisco. (He also sings a mean rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” debuted at StoryFarm’s kickoff event in February.)
Classes: An ongoing calendar of creative nonfiction, humor, memoir, and personal narrative classes.
Price tag: $15–$75 per workshop.
Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco.