Upworthy, a content aggregator focused on emotionally hard-hitting "stuff that matters," has announced an $8 million Series A funding round led by Spark Capital (early investors in Tumblr and Twitter) with the mission-driven Catamount (Seventh Generation, Plum Organics) and the venture arm of the nonprofit Knight Foundation, which incubates new media initiatives big and small.
Eli Pariser, one of the site's cofounders, says they'll use the new cash to roughly double their staff, with a focus on engineering, analytics, and business development, and to expand into new verticals. "We got a lot of proposals from investors to do Upworthy-TMZ or Upworthy-Quartz, which felt off-mission for us," he said. "We’re running a bunch of experiments in different areas right now, like parenting and global health."
The mix of investors—new media, mission-driven, nonprofit journalism—highlights the odd position Upworthy currently occupies. In the last eight weeks, subscribers to the site's daily newsletter are up to 4.5 million, while their biggest month saw 30 million unique visitors. In contrast to viral media sites like BuzzFeed or I Can Has Cheezburger, Upworthy focuses on content that has some social relevance, whether about gay marriage, cancer survival, or war. The connection may be tenuous or information-free, as in this 1992 antiwar George Carlin routine currently being promoted as a commentary on Syria, but at least there's an attempt at being high-minded.
Yet unlike BuzzFeed (again) or the Huffington Post, Pariser says Upworthy is unlikely to do its own reporting anytime soon, no matter how much money it gets. "It's not like people are like, 'the Internet is good but I wish it had more content,'" he says. "What's missing is trusted sources that say, 'here are some great links that will be entertaining and interesting and help you see the world in a better way.' That’s what we’re trying to do."
[Image: Flickr user Steve Snodgrass]