When Upworthy raised an additional $8 million in September of last year, they wrote a blog post thanking their readers and making them a promise. The new funds, they wrote, will “help us branch out into new editorial areas. There are a ton of very, very Upworthy issue areas that we can’t wait to dig into much more deeply.” In addition, they said they would “build out our business so that we can keep growing and get to the scale where we can really make a lasting impact.”
Last night, they announced some first steps toward achieving those goals. Upworthy is entering into content partnerships with Human Rights Watch, Climate Nexus, and ProPublica. The organizations were selected based on issue areas — human rights, climate change and income inequality — that were determined to be of heightened importance to Upworthy readers based on a survey. In a blog post, Upworthy explains that the partnerships are meant to ensure that the company continues to produce shareable content with an eye toward social good.
Upworthy has made an effort of late to dig deeper than surface level when it comes to making sure its audience is happy and satisfied. Their most recent move in that direction was the announcement of a new, unique metric for measuring engagement — attention minutes. The topic area survey reflects their continued pursuit of a better understanding of their audience, as well as a better reputation across the web.
Too many media companies assume the worst about their communities — they think just because they’ve seen starlet scandals get more site traffic than foreign revolutions, that’s what their audience really wants to see. We couldn’t disagree more, and we think that the millions of you who make up the Upworthy community help prove it every day.
Human Rights Watch and Climate Nexus are both advocacy groups with powerful media arms, so their partnering with Upworthy — which has always made it clear that it doesn’t practice journalism — makes a lot of sense. But ProPublica, which considers itself in many ways a traditional newsroom doing public-minded investigative journalism, is a different case. Of course, anyone’s work could benefit from the audience and social reach of a company like Upworthy. But the partnership will actually exceed mere repackaging for social media.
Writes Upworthy cofounder Peter Koechley in an email: “With ProPublica, we’re going to partner on exclusive new stories about income inequality. They’re bringing a wealth of world-class experience in investigative journalism, we’re bringing our huge, highly-engaged Upworthy community, and we’ll collaborate on the storytelling and presentation.” That storytelling might ultimately take the form of video, audio, or even full text articles.ProPublica already engages in over one hundred media partnerships in hopes of amplifying the impact of their work. “This is definitely a little different for us, but we think it could be quite interesting,” says Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica. “We’re big fans of what they’ve been doing. It’s very impressive — they’ve accomplished a lot in a short time.” The majority of ProPublica’s current partnerships are with publishers, although they do have an agreement with one other platform, says Tofel, an ebook publishing partnership with Amazon.
Most of those partnerships are exclusive, meaning not every ProPublica story will appear on all platforms or publishers. Teams from both organizations will work together to come up with story ideas that fit the overall editorial goals for the project.
“Our editorial people and theirs will get together, they’ll look at what’s coming down the road, what’s appropriate for them, and it will be agreed that a particular story or stories in this issue area make sense,” says Tofel. “Then, as the story nears completion, there will be an interchange back and forth about how to get it ready, and publish it simultaneously. And then we’ll do it.”
Content will live on both ProPublica’s website and at Upworthy — in fact, this won’t be the first time that Upworthy hosts ProPublica content.
“We’re always interested in experimenting with ways that can get more impact for our stories. We’ve been in business now not quite six years, since we started publishing. When we began, Twitter barely existed. This business is changing very quickly,” says Tofel. “We’re interested in thinking about new ways of publishing every story.”
And while Upworthy maintains that they have no designs on reporting themselves, they do take the responsibility for fact-checking seriously, especially after a recent mishap regarding “real science.” Tofel says he’s confident that the two organizations will work together smoothly, saying, “One of the things about having 106 different partners is you have to be comfortable working 106 different ways.”
Writes Koechley: “In the old days, the few big newspapers were so profitable they could run desks on most of the most important issues in the world. Now, as the news landscape fragments, investigative journalism often takes place in nonprofits, whether they’re pure-journalism outlets or advocacy media organizations. So we think arrangements like these — a nonprofit focused on the vitally important work of investigative journalism partnering with a mission-driven media company that specializes in sharing stories with millions of people — will grow more common in the years to come.”
Of course, partnerships like these also have a potential monetary benefit for Upworthy. They’re already producing paid content for organizations including the ACLU and Skype as well as pursuing underwritten projects. Koechley says the company would be open to an underwriting agreement with any of the new partners.
“Upworthy’s core competency is drawing massive amounts of attention to really important topics, and we’re building our revenue plan around those skills (rather than simply bolting on banner ads to the site),” writes Koechley. “To that end, we’ve been piloting ways to work with nonprofits, brands, and other media companies to help draw attention to big topics by sharing meaningful media.”
For organizations like ProPublica, that strength in reaching large audiences is appealing. “The more reach you have, all things being equal, the more impact you make,” Tofel says. “Reach is not synonymous with impact — but it never hurts.”