Contently, a self-described “storytelling platform,” launched an investigative reporting publication Wednesday along with a center that the three-year-old outlet plans to use to train young journalists in longform. Called Contently.org and the Contently Foundation, these new initiatives seek to offer freelance journalists alternatives to, as its founders put it, “exploitative media, like content farms.” Contently’s most recent mission statement says that it aims to build “a world with great content instead of ads.”
Contently “want[s] to create an alternative funding model for investigative reporting,” says Sam Slaughter, vp of content. “We believe that investigative reporting is important, and we want to make sure stories get told…and funded.” Slaughter told CJR that Contently.org will put out “longform, deeply reported pieces, once or twice a month,” and hopes to model itself after ProPublica in content and the Atavist in style.
The new nonprofit is “a separate entity” from Contently.com, Slaughter explains, but it will be funded through Contently’s for-profit projects. And despite a professed aversion to ads, much of Contently’s work, at least until Wednesday, involved connecting freelancers with brands to create sponsored content. Contently works with over 60 companies, ranging from Walmart to Google to Coca-Cola. In a sense, Contently functions similarly to an ad agency, except that client brands get “content” instead of ads.
That’s an important distinction to the folks over at Contently; it’s employed many freelancers who might otherwise have ended up working for clickbait sites, and just because content is sponsored doesn’t mean it isn’t striving for quality. According to a TechCrunch post from early this year, Contently pays freelancers about $275 per blog, more than they’ll be offered at many low-quality outlets.
When asked if funding its investigative outfit through sponsored content will affect the stories that Contently’s reporters pursue, Slaughter first responded, “There’s plenty of stuff for us to cover that’s not a real conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interest. There are lots of untold stories out there that don’t touch our business or our clients, and I think for us, it’s easier just to have those be the topics that we concentrate on.” He later amended his statement:
If it does come up that there’s a conflict of interest between what a reporter is working on and one of our clients, that reporter has absolute free reign to get to the bottom of a story however they want. There will not be meddling from the for-profit in the nonprofit.
He is less clear on the details of the foundation. When asked if reporters would have to pay to access training through the foundation, Slaughter said, “We haven’t really thought it through yet.”
Some of the training Contently hopes to provide seems like it may happen organically. Contently has hired Brad Hamilton, the former head of the investigations desk at the New York Post, and Slaughter is confident that Hamilton’s connections to both young and veteran reporters will result in mentoring relationships for the writing staff of Contently.org. “[Hamilton’s] working with a combination of old-school veteran freelancers that he knows and young, up-and-coming people that we’ve been able to put him in touch with. So, the reporters [for Contently.org] are going to be freelancers with a combination of different levels of experience.”
Despite some uncertainty around its new initiatives, Contently’s commitment to quality journalism seems genuine, and Slaughter seems quite optimistic about its future.
“We want to be about righting wrongs and speaking truth to power,” Slaughter said. “So this is about us practicing what we preach, I guess.”