headed by veteran magazine editor Joe Angio, and its digital unit, led by Sarah Ryley, after the newspaper sought our help with stories.
We are discussing similar arrangements with The New York Times, Mother Jones, and the Village Voice. We’ve been invited to speak to recent graduates of the Columbia Journalism School, which has been a strong supporter of our efforts to develop young reporters, including members of Columbia’s Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.
The foundation recently agreed to partner with Harper’s magazine after having brought to it our probe of a notorious Russian oligarch and his dark past. This project is now a fully collaborative effort that, we anticipate, will lead to the publication of a hard-hitting expose in Harper’s.
The story is just one of a dozen currently being developed. We have pieces in the works on an environmental scandal in Pennsylvania; financial frauds that target the elderly; abuses by the big pharmaceutical industry; a look at the demographics of public employees across the country; and a follow-up story related to judicial malfeasance. We’ve been looking into other problems involving education, policing, global warming and veterans.
The pharmaceutical investigation has opened a path for something new. This project, which we anticipate will result in multiple stories, has involved a team of volunteers who work for the Contently company, including founder Shane Snow, an accomplished author and journalist. These are young people who want to learn the basics of investigative work contribute their free time to reporting, and we meet once a week to discuss their ongoing efforts.
To date, our stories have reached millions of readers through our media partners and our own site, and they have affected positive change. In the wake of our judicial misconduct piece, statewide review panels are increasingly scrutinizing the personal finances of judges and other links that could impinge on their impartiality. Our story on the College of Faith has encouraged new legislation that would more tightly regulate for-profit and religious-based schools. In June, for example, the U.S. Department of Education proposed sweeping reforms aimed at reducing fraud and abuse in the sector.
Another element of the foundation’s education program involves a collaboration with LexisNexis.
Many independent journalists do not have access to industry-level research tools. To help level the playing field, Brad worked out a deal with LexisNexis for freelancers to get access to company’s news archives at a 75 percent discount, while he and a team from LexisNexis provide free training. The instruction, involving twice weekly webinars and individual coaching, focuses on showing reporters to how to best use these archives to develop stories and complete assignments. Contently covers the cost of the $250 yearly subscription for any contributor working for the foundation.
The LexisNexis project has been embraced by Columbia Journalism School, whose associate director, Gina Boubion, called it “incredible...a valuable benefit,” along with freelance organizations and many individuals. “This deal is a public service to those of us still scrivening," said Allen Salkin, author and former New York Times reporter.
Today Contently is supporting the foundation solely with proceeds from our business, and we will continue to do that. However, we have embarked on a major fundraising campaign, asking for support from other foundations so that we can extend our journalism work. We also seek to expand our educational program and hire a small full time staff, including Brad Hamilton, who heads the foundation as editor-in-chief and has devoted his career both to investigative journalism and to teaching.
Brad served as a lecturer at New York University, leading courses on introductory and advanced reporting. He headed a journalism project for students through the Brooklyn YMCA. He oversaw the work of a team of reporters at the New York Post, including bestselling authors Bridget Harrison and Susannah Cahalan, and published front-page exclusives that influenced public opinion and changed official policies. He won three New York Press Association awards and appeared numerous times on television to speak about his stories, including on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Inside Edition,” “The Geraldo Rivera Show,” as well as on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. He is a regular contributor to the Oxygen Network’s true-crime series.
When it was founded by Contently’s Sam Slaughter and Shane Snow in 2014, the New York-based Contently Foundation had two goals: empower those new to enterprise reporting, especially contributors far from the nation’s big media centers, where support is hard to come by and important public service stories often go untold; and produce high-quality, long-form investigative stories to be co-published with digital news partners and other media.
The reporting was to rely on fundamentals of the form: data, documents, analysis, independent studies, first-hand observations and exclusive interviews. There would be an emphasis on dramatic storytelling and the creation of an authentic voice to resonate with younger readers.
We saw a big gap in the marketplace, which is dominated by first-rate outlets like the Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, non-profits that have large staffs and budgets but rarely write for or reach the millennial audience we wanted to engage. What’s more, it is extremely difficult for young reporters or those inexperienced at enterprise journalism to find a way into this type of work on their own.
That’s why we crafted the Contently Foundation mission around providing those journalists with the tools and support they need to advance their skills and develop stories with impact. We did so with a distinctive combination of mentoring and financial support, coupled with exposure to digital technology to enhance their work, and to bring their pieces to a wide audience through other emerging new media publishers.
Two years into the project, the foundation has worked hard to fulfill this mission, and we are proud of our achievements.
Operating with only two part-time editors and an annual budget less than what top reporters earn in a year, we have published eight stories, each by a contributor with no previous long-form experience, won a national award for investigative reporting, and forged successful partnerships with leading media companies. Those connections have led to tremendous exposure for our reporters.
We’ve also launched an education program for freelance journalists that stresses exhaustive information gathering, proper research, public record acquisition and good writing.
Our published pieces have probed the billion-dollar erotic massage industry; invasive spying and privacy violations from the use of license-plate readers; and hidden conflicts of interest among judges. Our story on the worst football team in America exposed one bible school’s exploitation of young athletes and the scant oversight of colleges that offer religious instruction. We chronicled the changing culture of adoption in America, as well as transgender crime victims and their struggle to find justice. We looked at one man’s resistance to ISIS recruiters after the notorious terrorist cell targeted him aggressively, along with how the group makes millions through human smuggling.
Reporter Dan Patterson’s story “Angels of Death,” about the role that young women play in illegal handgun trafficking, won the 2015 Donald Robinson Award for Investigative Journalism, given by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. The prize, started in 1991, is “an annual monetary award to a writer who has published a freelance article that represents exceptional skill in writing and most notably, in investigative reporting or expose.” Past recipients include Katherine Eban for her "Fast and Furious" probe in Fortune magazine and Alexandra Owens, who wrote for Washingtonian magazine about a battle among hospitals involving prematurely born babies.
Each of our stories has been published on the foundation’s web site, Contently.org, and simultaneously through a selected media partner. The Guardian newspaper of London ran our probe of judicial misconduct, which became the most popular article on the paper’s site the day it was published, and generated more than 400 comments. We’ve co-published two pieces with the New York Post, where Contently editor-in-chief Brad Hamilton previously led the newspaper’s first desk for investigative reporting: the erotic massage investigation and the football story, which appeared on the Post’s front page. We’ve worked with emerging media companies as well, including Fusion and Medium, and in conjunction with groups that represent independent writers -- the Online News Association, the Freelancers Union, the Society of Professional Journalists and several more.
The foundation has built a variety of other partnerships. We’ve begun working with the New York Daily News’ investigative team,
Ethics & Disclosure
In order to provide transparency for the public we acknowledge the following: The Contently Foundation and Contently, Inc. are separate entities operating in support of their respective missions. The Contently Foundation grew out of Contently, Inc, but is not directly involved in the proceedings of Contently, Inc. Both The Contently Foundation and Contently, Inc. share executive personnel who invest their efforts into The Contently Foundation.
Contently, Inc is a technology company that helps publishers and freelancers tell great stories and succeed in business. The company provides paid software tools for brands and other types of publishers, aiming to re-establish the so-called rules of who can be a publisher and who can't. Contently also provides free tools to help freelance journalists manage their careers, and brokers work as a sort of tech-fangled talent agent for thousands of professional storytellers. Learn more at contently.com.
Freedom of the press at Guantanamo Bay
The Contently Foundation is part of a coalition of news organizations, including The New York Times, the Guardian, and the Associated Press, that has moved to unseal videotapes of forced feedings at Guantanamo Bay.
For more information or if you're interested in joining the coalition, please email email@example.com.