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ISIS Wants Me


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ISIS Wants Me


How terror recruiters in Egypt target one man faced with a choice: kill civilians or gamble with his life in profiteer smuggling

Ismail had just finished daily prayers when the men approached. It was a sweltering evening in the Maadi district of Cairo, and the group of three bearded figures, who had been loitering outside a mosque, spotted him as soon as he walked out. Ismail, a struggling Sudanese migrant, hadn’t eaten in a few days, leaving his eyes badly bloodshot. The men took notice of his condition. As they advanced, the air thick and choked with pollution, a cloud of dust swirled around them, settling on their clothes and facial hair.

They invited Ismail to a nearby hookah café, where, huddled around a small square table, the trio engaged him in casual conversation. Their voices, smooth and tinged with Sudanese accents, directed the conversation toward Islam, philosophy and Ismail’s dire situation.

The three recruiters did not reveal the name of their organization, but Ismail later learned it was likely Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis, an Egyptian-based terror cell working with Daesh, the so-called Islamic State known as ISIS or ISIL. Experts say this cell is part of an expanding ISIS network that targets impoverished, hungry and devout men like Ismail, many of whom can be found amid growing refugee communities across the Middle East. ISIS and other terrorists scour these clusters of castoffs, using their vast resources to offer them everything they lack: money, freedom, spiritual peace.

Story by Dan Patterson

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Transgression


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Transgression


Transgender women face a Harsh reality of violent assaults — and mistreatment BY police

Reyes got into the back seat of Randy Lee Parkerson’s silver Honda, which he’d parked on a residential street in Santa Ana. Parkerson, 40, was having his own troubles. He’d just lost his job as a “team leader” at Target and went on a methamphetamine bender, smoking so much of the drug it kept him awake for six continuous days. Parkerson, who did not consider himself bisexual, told police that when high, he preferred male partners. He and Reyes, he claimed, went from oral to anal sex and she asked to have her airway restricted. While he choked her, he told police, wrapping his right arm around her neck and holding her hair with his left hand, Reyes would “grab his hand or she would make some noises, which would cause him to stop, but then Zoraida would say, ‘No, no, keep going, go, go.

When it was over 10 minutes later, Parkerson claimed, he noticed blood around Reyes’s nose and realized she was dead.

Story by Danielle Shapiro

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On the last day of her life, Zoraida Reyes had a choice: take the bus or walk to meet her blind date. Her favored method of getting around, a bright yellow bicycle that friends called the banana boat, had been stolen, and she’d never learned to drive. So she set out on foot on June 10, 2014, a mild, overcast day in southern California, from her rented bedroom in a modest ranch-­style home in Santa Ana, having arranged to meet a man she met on badoo.com, the social networking site.

Only it wasn’t really a date. Reyes, a 28­-year-­old transgender woman, planned to connect with the man because he’d agreed to pay her $10 for oral sex. Tall and slender with wavy black hair and chiseled cheekbones, she had the legs of a model and a prominent Adam’s apple, of which she was especially self-conscious. Paid sex helped her get by. Reyes, a prominent local LGBTQ activist, had worked at fast­-food restaurants until getting hurt on the job at a Jack In the Box, but she hoped to return to her studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. On most Tuesday nights, she attended meetings for transgender Latina women at the LGBT Center Orange County.

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Fantasy Football


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Fantasy Football


How an Arkansas preacher's online Bible school fielded the worst college team in America

The Wildcat trainers responded, examining Carr’s injury, helping him up, sliding his foot into a sling and outfitting him with crutches. The next day Carr took himself to the emergency room at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where doctors determined his ankle was broken and required surgery. Carr later returned to the hospital, and surgeons inserted a plate and pins to repair the damage. His family’s health insurance covered the bill. His college provided nothing.

But in the wake of the lopsided lossto a team that had not won in 12 previous games, going back more than a year and a halfand a host of injuries during the blowout, questions percolated about the College of Faith, its players and just what kind of football program the school was running.

Story by Marcus Baram; Photos by Blair Ball

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On a warm August afternoon in 2014, about 20 minutes from Charlotte, North Carolina, the worst team in college football was taking a pounding. The College of Faith Saints didn’t stand a chance against the Davidson College Wildcats, who were cruising to a 56-0 victory in front of their home crowd when Saints nose tackle Gerald Carr crumpled to the turf.

“I was trying to go for a tackle,” recalled Carr, who at 6’7” and 330 pounds has at least the size to compete at the upper collegiate level. “And all of a sudden someone got their foot under my foot and then someone else fell on top of me.”

Carr’s ankle screamed in pain, but his team could not help as it didn’t have a trainer or anyone on hand with even remedial medical skills. There was only one optionto summon the Davidson staff.

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Judging the judges


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Judging the judges


An investigation into judicial misconduct

They arrested him for violating the order, reporting that Stuart had stared down at Margaret with his arms folded on three consecutive nights. She got temporary possession of the family home. But in the years that followed, Margaret Besen’s hopes for an equitable settlement dwindled as she battled a series of harsh and hard-to-explain decisions against her. Though she could never prove anything, she suspected that the scales had tipped for reasons unrelated to the evidence in her case. If true, she faced what experts say is one of the most troubling threats to our nation’s system of justice: judges, who, through incompetence, bias or outright corruption, prevent the wronged from getting a fair hearing in our courts.

By Peter S. Green and John Mazor

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When Margaret Besen, a 51-year-old nurse from East Northport, Long Island, filed for divorce from her husband in March of 2010, she had every reason to believe that justice was on her side.

But within weeks, the situation deteriorated. Stuart Besen, a politically connected attorney for the town of Huntington, had an anger problem, Margaret told authorities. The couple’s screaming matches left Margaret feeling intimidated and their children — a daughter, 11, and son, 7 — terrified, she said. So in August of that year she obtained an order of protection prohibiting Stuart from harassing her. Three weeks later, Stuart entered Margaret’s bedroom and hovered over her as she slept, she told police.

 

 

 

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Looking for a Happy Ending


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Looking for a Happy Ending


INSIDE THE $1 BILLION BUSINESS OF EROTIC MASSAGE PARLORS

In the happy endings business, it pays to put on a happy face.

Claire knows this well. On a sunny fall morning last year she took the train from her home on Long Island to a storefront in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan where the windows were taped over with yellowing paper. She walked in past the dangling doorbell, which hung loosely to one side, and the two teddy bears clutching chocolate bars, then continued along a narrow hallway lined with treatment rooms. A maroon sign with white letters provided the only clue about what business was being conducted here: “Spa."

Inside, it was as dark as a movie theater, the paper and heavy curtains blotting out any semblance of sunshine. The smell of sweat rose from the carpet like mist. Three of her colleagues clustered around a desk, gabbing and scrolling through messages on their phones. Soon the place would fill with customers, so Claire changed into a strappy zebra-print dress and steeled herself for the job of giving massages, and occasionally more, to a parade of men, something she does for 80 hours a week.

By Tamarra Kemsley and Brad Hamilton

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Adoptation


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Adoptation


No longer cloaked in secrecy, today’s adoptions involve just about everyone.

The plan was for mother to meet daughter at the Brookfield Zoo on Chicago’s west side but the thought of this encounter filled Stephanie Austin with anxiety. It was to be the first time she would see her child since 1992 when Austin, then just 16, had relinquished her three-day-old infant because she knew she couldn’t care for the girl.

Five years later Maggie Kealy had grown into a sweet — and inquisitive — kindergartner. Her adoptive parents, Rita and Michael Kealy, provided a loving home as well as a little sister for Maggie whom they adopted from another family. 

There were no secrets in their household; both Kealy children knew they had been adopted. Maura, Maggie’s sister, not only had met her own birth parents, she saw them regularly. Maggie desperately wanted that, too.

So the Kealys tried to make it happen. Finally, after years of them sending photos and updates of Maggie to Austin, it seemed the time had come for the birth mother to meet the daughter she never really knew.

By Danielle Shaprio

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License to spy


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License to spy


A look inside the easily abused and barely regulated universe of license plate surveillance. 

Accountant Arthur Ureche was heading to work in Hollywood Hills on Jan. 30 last year when he turned his Enterprise rental onto Laurel Canyon Boulevard and noticed four LAPD squad cars following him.

He guessed that their presence involved another celebrity “S.W.A.T.-ing” incident: teen hackers had been sending police units to the homes of stars, including Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus.

So Ureche, 40, pulled his white Chevy compact over and waited for them to pass.

 When he checked the rear-view mirror, he saw that they’d spread out across the road a good distance behind and were blocking traffic. He couldn’t imagine they’d have any interest in him, a union dues administrator in a button-down shirt whose last traffic ticket, at age 19, was for driving too slowly.

But something was definitely wrong. Five cops crouched behind car doors, their weapons aimed in his direction.

By Chris Francescani; Photos by Jenny McCabe

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angels of death


American arms traffickers are not who you think. 

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angels of death


American arms traffickers are not who you think. 

Tiana never saw herself as a killer.

The daughter of a prostitute, she grew up in an inner city housing project surrounded by crack cocaine, day-time shootings and illicit money making. Hustling was in her family's blood. Her grandmother ran an after-hours booze business from their apartment, selling bottles of beer and pints of liquor until three in the morning.

For Tiana, who was determined not to follow her mother into the sex trade, guns became the hustle. 

Buying weapons for the men in her life—a practice that police call straw purchasing—was easy money.

"I hung out a lot with guys because I didn't figure that women could teach me anything," she told me. "Guys taught me ... to deal with the street. And part of that was guns."

By Dan Patterson; Illustrations by Orlin Culture Shop

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Introducing Contently.org


We're proud to introduce Contently.org, the philanthropic friend of Contently Inc. 

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Introducing Contently.org


We're proud to introduce Contently.org, the philanthropic friend of Contently Inc. 

We're very proud to introduce The Contently Foundation, the philanthropic friend of Contently, Inc.

What exactly, you might be forgiven for asking, is a company that's barely 3 1/2 years old doing launching a non-profit wing? It's pretty simple actually. 

We started Contently with the mission of creating a better media world for everyone—readers, publishers, and advertisers. Using our software and talent we've made great strides towards our goal, eradicating content farms and providing well-paying work to freelance journalists and other creatives. But there's always been a piece missing—the capital J journalism which led us into this profession in the first place. 

It's tough to make public-interest journalism profitable, and since traditional media's business models have collapsed, it's become even tougher. Still, as the legacy players have shed jobs and cut reporting budgets, investigative reporting has flowered in other places. Some of them are non-profits like ProPublica, others are new-school publishers like Vox and Buzzfeed. But all of them share our belief that great journalism is vital to a functioning democracy.  

Get involved 

 

And so here we are—using the profits from our software business to help fund stories in the public interest. And why shouldn't we? Plenty of companies devote corporate philanthropy dollars to causes that they hold dear, and Contently—founded by and for journalists—believes in a strong and flourishing fourth estate. This is us putting our money where our mouth is. 

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. 

We know we are not the only ones who believe in the transformative power of stories. So if you’re a journalist with a story you want to pursue, or a brand who believes in what we’re doing, or a news outlet that wants to combine forces, we hope you’ll join us.