Iceberg rescues Titanic: Content marketer launches fund for investigative journalism

Many media entities, both traditional and digital-only, are experimenting with sponsored content and native advertising — including Medium, which just launched its effort in that area earlier this week. So why shouldn’t a content-marketing company start up a journalism unit? In a fascinating bit of turnabout-is-fair-play, a New York-based startup called Contently announced on Wednesday that it is launching a non-profit project to produce investigative journalism, in partnership with outlets including Gawker and The Atavist.

As Forbes describes it, the project will be run as a foundation and will have its own dedicated site at At the moment it has one editor, former New York Post investigations editor Brad Hamilton, who took a buyout from the newspaper earlier this year and then launched a site called NotJustUs, focused on social justice. Contently founder Shane Snow said the company would be seeding the new project with a “pretty hefty donation,” and will support it financially with profits from the content-marketing side of the business:

“ is our way of planting trees as a company. We’ve always considered ourselves a tech company that cares about the future of media.”

Helping good journalism survive

Investigative pieces funded through the foundation will be written using the Creatavist platform from Atavist and will appear at and be cross-published by Gawker. The company is also in discussions with other potential partners such as ProPublica and the New York Times. In addition to its public benefits, Snow said Contently sees the project as a way of differentiating itself from other marketing outfits, by showing that it has a larger focus than just generating revenue. “You look at companies like Warby Parker and Tom’s, they have a great time with hiring, retention, business success in general by caring about something,” he told Forbes writer Jeff Bercovici.

Snow, who founded Contently in 2010 after graduating from Columbia Journalism School, told Crain’s New York Business that he wants to help figure out how to subsidize the kind of important journalism that newspapers used to do, something many have cut back on as advertising revenues in the industry have declined — a decline that has been accelerated by a move towards digital solutions like Contently’s, which connects freelance writers with brands that need content.

“There’s always this lingering question, as media gets turned upside down: What happens to the investigative journalism that’s always been subsidized by the sports section or some other part of the paper, and how can we be a part of holding it up? We decided, well, our company is making money off this brand stuff. Instead of planting trees, why don’t we put some of that profit toward supporting investigative journalism?”

The site says the Contently Foundation “funds, publishes, and supports investigative journalism in the public interest. We aim to shine light where light is needed, give voice to the voiceless, and buoy up the fourth estate that keeps democracy alive.” The foundation’s first feature is called Angels of Death, a long-form investigation by reporter Dan Patterson of the trade in illegal handguns.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / Sculder19