10 with Shane Snow

By Leadingham, Scott | The Quill, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

10 with Shane Snow


Leadingham, Scott, The Quill


Quill poses 10 questions to people with some of the coolest jobs in journalism

Shane Snow might not be a typical New Yorker - in that he's from Idaho and spent time after college at BYU-ldaho "finding himself" in Hawaii.Though he had a knack for technology and Web design, his deeper interest was in writing. (Insert stereotypical, oft-seen "run away to New York" story here.) A master's from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism helped him merge his writing and business minds. He approached his time at Columbia with wanting to build something new and entrepreneurial in the journalism field.Teaming with a friend from Idaho, Snow co-founded what is now Co ntently, billed as"a technology company," but really a place to bring journalists and publishers together and encourage high-quality freelance exchanges.

OK, first things first: What the heck is Contently?

Contently is a technology platform that empowers storytellers to tell their stories. You could say we're like Match.com for journalists and publishers.

Comedian Lewis Black has this bit about Enron from when it collapsed, essentially if a company can't explain in one sentence what it does, it's illegal. So, in one sentence, what does Contently do and how do you make money?

We broker work between publishers and journalists and take a transaction fee. We help publishers and writers connect.

I assume you're familiar with the term "content farm." I'm not accusing you of being one. But you can see how your name might lead a passive observer to think that. So, how are you not a content farm?

Originally we wanted "contently" for content (as in material or filling). But now it's more for "content" (as in satisfied or peaceful). One of the reasons we started Contently was because we were sick of content farms. The games content farms are playing is made (to play on search engine optimization).

How are you not Demand Media, one of the biggest content farms out there?

I have said publicly that we would never sell our company to Demand Media. Quality storytelling conveys something that is more powerful and more human. People want good stories, they want to get on the Internet to see stories that make them happy and enrich their lives. That's our stance. Content is such a broad thing. We don't just limit ourselves to writing. Our "take over the world plan" is to have editorial cartoonists and videographers.

I spoke once for "10" to David Cohn, founder of crowd-source funding platform Spot. Us and now editor of Circa. His line on journalism that I often quote: "Content is king, but collaboration is queen." You say in Con tently's online manifesto, "Quality is king, freelance is the future." How do you ensure quality content that isn't just click bait?

We are trying to build a company that is to be the plumbing that underlies all great stories on the Web. And that's a fairly lofty goal. At this point, Contently is not part of the editorial process for the companies that come to look for the on-boarding process. Our job to ensure quality is to lay the groundwork for the ecosystem that encourages quality. We built this tool where anyone can get a portfolio to showcase your work. To get into our professional marketplace where publishers can search, we actually screen your work beforehand. What we do now is your portfolio becomes our screening mechanism. We know if you've written for content farms. We've built this huge data profile around each journalist to weed out. Basically our criteria is have you written multiple times for outlets that have high editorial standards. We don't let any publisher sign up. We don't let SEO companies sign up. Content is so broad, that some people want to have someone live tweet an event for an hour, others want someone to write a 5,000-word investigative story. By and large the ecosystem is very high quality.

Cohn talked about crowd-funded reporting platforms like Spot.Us (and now Kickstarter) being part of a "raft" that is being built to help the future of journalism's business model. …

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