ince the beginning of civilization, we've told stories. Stories helped us distill information for our tribes. They were how we remembered. Stories were how our brains built empathy, so we could form relationships and make people care. We told stories because we needed each other to survive. We used stories to bridge our differences—and eventually, to speak truth to power and march together to change the world.
Fast forward, and businesses, too, have realized that stories can build relationships and make people care. So we got newspapers. Magazines. Cable. Netflix. Blogs and Twitter feeds run by banks and Taco Bells. Now we can't escape all the screens and all the things that scream at us from them. The stories, the advertisements, the content, the updates, the memes. The spam.
In today's hurricane of content, great stories stand out. As professional storytellers—journalists at magazines like Wired and cable like Comcast—we knew this. We imagined a future where the bad stories and spam in the Internet's echostorm were replaced by good ones. So, we started a technology company, Contently, with the mission of helping writers, businesses, and media companies break through the cacophony by telling better stories. We made tools to help those banks and Taco Bells entertain and educate through stories instead of ads, and built tech to help independent writers and photographers make ends meet.
But when we looked at the world of content we were helping to create, we saw something troubling. The kinds of stories that truly change the world are often the stories that don't make much money. They're the stories that advertisers don't need, but the public does. The stories that keep the government honest, that inform voters of the truth, that help us empathize with and care about the downtrodden or forgotten. How would a world of memes and streams fund investigations that shine light on corruption and give voice to voiceless groups? How could we tell stories that kept the powerful in check, when the powerful were writing the checks?
The most important investigative stories are reported and shot and written and told by journalists with no financial axe to grind. Whether they're subsidized by the ads in the Sports section and advertorials in the Style section, public interest journalism is essentially funded through philanthropy.
And we realized, for decades, companies that wanted to give back to their communities have planted trees. They give billions every year, in fact, to this kind of philanthropy. Why couldn't we use our profits and resources as a technology company to give back to journalism? So we created an independent nonprofit, The Contently Foundation, to do that. Our trees are stories.
We think that great investigative journalism can be done differently—through innovative technology that allows us to find, tell, and share stories more powerfully and cost-efficiently than before. And we think it can be funded fully—through corporate donations, with no strings attached.
We're applying our passion for journalism with the hunger and innovation of the digital revolution we've become part of to telling the kinds of stories the world needs. With that toolkit, we aim to do what storytelling has always done, to bridge our differences and make people care.
The ancient inhabitants of North America had a proverb: "Those who tell the stories rule the world." We agree. And we think that they can change it, too.
– Shane Snow & Sam Slaughter
The Contently Foundation, 2016