A little less than 18 months ago, Hamish McKenzie wrote an article in Pando Daily called “What if Contently Bought ProPublica?”
In it, he talked about how in certain circumstances it would make sense for a for-profit brand like Contently to finance investigative reporting. To quote Hamish (who’s a far more eloquent writer than I am):
“Investigative journalism in particular has never been able to pay for itself – it has always been subsidized by the more lucrative sections of newspapers, such as business and real estate, which deliver targeted, moneyed-up audiences and therefore larger ad dollars. A Contently-owned ProPublica would be a similar case of subsidy in action, but its business section would literally be a business – and one kept at a further remove.”
The idea stuck with us. Yes, we’re a for-profit enterprise that makes money from content marketing software, but we’re also journalists at heart. We care about the decline of the news industry and worry about who’s going to pay for the kind of investigative work that’s essential to a healthy democracy. And though we’re a long ways off from being able to afford to buy a company like ProPublica, we realized there was no reason we couldn’t start a nonprofit of our own. And so last July, we launched The Contently Foundation for Investigative Reporting, with the mission of providing journalists with the financial resources and the platform to report and distribute stories that matter.
When we started the foundation last summer, we hoped to tell a few important stories and to empower good reporters to do good work. We did not expect, even in our wildest dreams, to win any awards.
But here we are. Last month, the American Society of Journalists and Authors awarded the Donald Robinson Memorial Award for investigative reporting to Dan Patterson and The Contently Foundation for a story called “Angels of Death,” about the women entrapped in the illicit arms trafficking trade.
It’s not a Pulitzer, but it certainly carries some weight. Previous winners include Alexandra Robbins for The Washingtonian magazine about the dire state of hospitals in D.C., and Katherine Eban for a probe into the “Fast and Furious” scandal for Fortune. Most importantly, “Angels of Death” does what good investigative reporting should: shine a light in corners of our world that we don’t often see and ask us to question the official story.
Since then, the foundation has published Chris Francescani’s story on terrifying new methods of police surveillance, Danielle Shapiro’s story on new face of adoption, and Tamarra Kemsley’s harrowing account of the inner workings of the erotic massage industry.
And there’s more to come—the foundation is currently working on stories about elder abuse, judicial corruption, and an inside look at the federal prison system. It’s also looking for new partners, and to expand it’s board of directors, and seeking out relationships with more established media brands to increase awareness of its work.
When the foundation launched last year, I wrote the following, which I think still holds true:
Of course, there will be questions. Like, how can a site affiliated with a for-profit corporation be trusted to pursue stories that may not be in our best interests? That’s why we’ve set up The Contently Foundation as a separate corporate entity, with an independent board and a separate charter. We want to empower the journalists at The Contently Foundation to pursue the truth, regardless of how it might affect Contently, Inc’s bottom line.
At the end of the day though, we will (and should) be judged on the quality of our reporting.
I think we have been.