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“We stepped in and started doing it”: How one woman built an award-winning news outlet from her dining room table
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June 16, 2017, 9:42 a.m.
Business Models

From jobs to journalism: Task & Purpose is finding a niche reporting on veterans’ issues

The veterans-focused site, born out of a jobs board, is expanding beyond its original conception with original reporting, a growing staff of full-time writers, and its own revenue streams.

For some soldiers, the hardest part about war is coming home from it. Beyond post traumatic stress disorder or other battlefield wounds, many veterans also suffer from conditions like adjustment disorder that complicate the process of acclimating to civilian life. And often one of the biggest problems is finding a job.

Veterans-focused job site HirePurpose was formed to address the work challenge, but it’s seen opportunity in covering those other challenges as well. In 2014, the company launched Task & Purpose, a news and culture site focused on the concerns of young U.S. veterans, particularly those of Iraq and Afghanistan. Around a third of its output is transition-focused, centering on issues such as veterans’ benefits, education, and civilian careers.

Lauren Katzenberg, Task & Purpose’s cofounder and managing editor, said that the site’s goal is to make coverage of these transition concerns more accessible to veterans. “You have to be very proactive to find it,” she said. “Some of the official programs have gotten better, but the process used to essentially involve giving veterans a slap on the ass and telling them ‘good luck.’ People get out thinking they’re going to get a job right away, but for so many folks, that’s not the case.” (Zachary Iscol, HirePurpose’s CEO, is himself an Iraq War veteran.)

Like Dollar Shave Club’s men’s interest site MEL and Van Winkle’s from mattress company Casper, Task & Purpose was initially developed in large part to be a marketing vehicle, however loosely connected, for its parent company HirePurpose. The site still maintains that role to a degree; HirePurpose regularly publishes to the site with articles like “5 companies hiring combat-arms vets — no degree required” and “PwC knows that hiring women and veterans makes them a more effective company.” The two sites also share some staff and developer resources. But Katzenberg said that the sites have become more distinct editorially and strategically over time — particularly in the past eight months, as Task & Purpose has bolstered its team size (now at 10 full-time staff) and begun generating its own revenue via programmatic advertising and direct-sold branded content.

Task & Purpose has used much of that revenue to fuel its investment in original feature reporting. (It plans to build on the model further by pushing into original video production as well.) Last November, the site sent reporter (and former U.S. Army combat medic) Adam Linehan to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to cover some of the veterans protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In March, Task & Purpose reported on a 30,000-member Facebook group called Marines United that Marines were using to share nude photos of servicewomen and veterans. And in May, Linehan covered how deported U.S. servicemen were being pressed into working for Mexican drug cartels. The site also plans to send a reporter to Afghanistan this month. “One of our big goals has been to differentiate ourselves by doing this kind of on-the-ground reporting,” Katzenberg said.

Katzenberg added that one of site’s most distinctive features is that many of its writers are veterans themselves. This makes a real difference in Task and Purpose’s reporting: “We’re covering stories that other outlets are covering, but our writers are able to get to know their subjects on a level that other journalists often aren’t able to,” she said.

Task & Purpose has drawn some noteworthy bylines as of late. In April of last year, Senator John McCain wrote an op-ed on his proposal to improve veterans affairs. In a similar vein, former president Barack Obama also published an op-ed about the U.S.’s responsibility to take care of veterans once they return home.

The site’s output isn’t universally hard-hitting; around 30 percent its articles are more lifestyle-oriented, focused on humor (“If ‘covfefe’ were a DoD acronym, what would it stand for?”), entertainment (“Tom Cruise is very pleased with the new Top Gun sequel’s name”), and health (“These are the troops most affected by the military’s worsening sleep problem”). While these Facebook-friendly kinds of stories will make up less of Task & Purpose’s output over time, they’re likely to remain core to its overall editorial strategy. It’s also a clear differentiator from more conventional competitors like Stars and Stripes, Army Times, and Military Times.

“We always want to have that combination of news and lifestyle content for this audience,” Katzenberg said. “No one was doing that.”

Photo of National Guard soldiers by North Carolina National Guard used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     June 16, 2017, 9:42 a.m.
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