Freed eventually?

The first public sign for some time that Freed may be going to get off the ground popped up this week, after initial fanfare nearly two years ago followed by signs of recruitment had then subsided into nothing more than occasional hints.

And notably, while Freed is again being promoted on Whale Oil, it is not Cameron Slater heading the hubris, and it has been presented less as a tack on project of Slater’s.

In July 2014 Freed was announced on Whale Oil as Cameron Slater’s next media venture.

We’ve been signalling that there is something in the wind that would see Whaleoil expand and grow without being specific about it.

This quoted an NBR report:

[Cameron Slater] will start a news website before this year’s general election.

NBR ONLINE understands Instra managing founder Tony Lentino is funding
the news website which Cameron Slater says will have 10 staff.

Mr Slater will not confirm Mr Lentino’s involvement but says one private
investor has contributed a six-figure sum for the site.

He says the investor was motivated to act after being frustrated at the quality
of news and journalism in New Zealand.

Mr Slater’s associate, Regan Cunliffe, has registered a domain name,, but Mr Slater said this was only one of many options for the site.

Mr Cunliffe is the founder of TV website Throng.

Mr Slater says the Whale Oil site will continue at the same time and the sites
may break stories together.

Slater added:

At this stage we are not going to expand on any of the detail, suffice to say that instead of replacing Whaleoil, this new venture will implement similar strategies and draw on the same talents that is driving the unprecedented growth behind this site.  It will complement and run alongside Whaleoil, but is a completely separate venture focussed purely on “the news”.

It is time for a “New media” news service and a bit of a shake-up of the old media club.

If done well a major media alternative could have had a positive effect.

But then Dirty Politics happened, severely impacting in Slater’s credibility and saleability. The election came and went and Slater was marginalised.

Recruitment advertisements and interviews went ahead towards the end of 2014, but in 2015 activity quickly faded from sight. It turns out that funder Lentino was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly had different priorities.

Over the next year there were only passing hints of something possible in future.

Then on Thursday an Incite article was reposted at Whale Oil – something Slater had said wouldn’t happen as Incite was exclusive material (“None of the content of the magazine will be available on Whaleoil or anywhere else.”)

It had been promoted as “Regan Cunliffe discusses what motivated him to start working towards building a new media voice in NZ.”

But it was more of a product promotion than a political/media insight and it appears that it needed a bigger market.


During the 2011 election, my wife Rachel and I had been invited by TVNZ to cover the leaders’ debates for our television website Throng.

Although posted under Slater’s name and it was not made clear at the start it was obviously not Slater. A quick scroll to the bottom shows that it is signed by Regan Cunliffe, CEO Freed Media Group.

Cunliffe gave some background into why he thought alternative media was important to him. He then detailed some of Freed’s history.

The one project I have constantly wanted to tackle is news. I’ve watched as media companies struggled to come to terms with the arrival and dominance of digital media. I’ve laughed and shaken my head in disbelief at what their reactions were. I’ve watched copious amounts of money be thrown at poorly executed attempts at second-rate delivery platforms. My frustration at what a real difference those resources in the right hands could make was palpable.

Knowing what to do and being able to do it are quite different things. In order to challenge the mainstream media, any new player needs a certain level of resources. Finding someone who recognised the opportunity in the media market and was willing to back it financially was the first goal.

A difficult goal. Any major investment in media would be a major gamble as old media companies struggle to adapt and shed staff and credibility.

The big growth in media is with major international enterprises like Google and Facebook. They are substantially changing and taking over news distribution channels.

In early 2014, Tony Lentino provided that necessary financial backing that would launch such a project. Freed was incredibly close to launching at the end of that year. We’d had a great development run and a very successful round of interviews with potential job candidates and were weeks away from going live when it all changed. Tony became unwell and was diagnosed with cancer. What immediately became the priority was Tony’s very survival. The stress of launching such a large, and important project, just wasn’t what he needed. Tony wished us the best and walked away to focus on staying alive and making sure he was around to watch his young family grow up.

During 2015 we hoped and prayed for a miracle for Tony as we continued to refine our plans for Freed.

Very tough on Lentino, and frustrating for Cunliffe.

The media landscape has continued to decay with their shameless pursuit of clickbait, and idle and malicious gossip. Much of what passes as headlines and “breaking news” now is paid-for content that protects brands from ever having a bad thing written about them because they’re funding the survival of these clickbait engines.

I agree with all of that. But ironically Whale Oil has also become synonymous with paid-for content and click baiting, so their association with Freed is an issue.

Freed is an important project because we desperately need to change how journalism is done.

I think that is a bit optimistic. Sure you can try to change it in some way by doing journalism differently, but influencing journalism as a whole significantly is highly ambitious and probably unrealistic.

I believe Freed has the answer. Careful preparation has been made and we’re ready to launch. Freed will monetise news without the need for advertising or paid subscriptions to access it.

Subscriptions would severely limit the chances of success, especially for a new media enterprise. But no advertising as well limits options substantially.

What we need now are a few more people who are prepared to put $50k+ on the table.

Hence the repost at Whale Oil – which makes fund raising challenging.

Whale Oil has done quite a bit of fund raising already, but not on this scale. Slater and Whale Oil are not a particularly marketable commodity or medium these days.

But with Freed being closely associated with Whale Oil and Slater since the initial announcement there are probably limited alternatives for them to promote themselves. Other major media are hardly likely to promote a competitor.

David Farrar seems to have in part at least remained supportive of Slater but I haven’t even seen Kiwiblog helping out.

As established media organisations continue to diminish and devalue their newsrooms by eliminating the single biggest asset they have, their staff, I am of the belief that it is those who are investing in news who will not only survive, but become the new leaders in journalism. The incumbents are wandering around aimlessly like zombies as the world crumbles around them.

It looks quite a bit like that.

We are young, excited, and full of vision for the future.

It’s not clear who the ‘we’ are he is referring to. Slater is not particularly young and has sounded quite jaded lately. Perhaps Cunliffe has other young excited people lined up.

If you’re ready to help launch the next big thing in New Zealand, I’d love to hear from you and have you join us for the next leg of this incredible journey.

Regan Cunliffe
CEO Freed Media Group

If you share Regan’s vision and optimism and have a few grand to spare then go for it.

A venture like this must be a big risk financially. It may be just what the media market needs in the future, but it is a very competitive market that’s in turmoil. There are opportunities but also risks.

And one risk is being closely associated with Slater, who while breaking significant new ground with Whale Oil is finding the going tough as his dirty (and proud of it) approach has taken it’s toll.

Cunliffe may be able to pull it off, he has substantial web and media experience and doesn’t have the baggage that Slater has.

Any new media venture has to be worth supporting with some hope that it will shake things up and provide something better. Whether Cunliffe can find the financial support he needs will become apparent in the coming months.

There has been no sign of change at for some time, with the same “Be the first to know when we’re live” subscription message that’s been up there for months.

And the last post on Freed’s Facebook page is from 19 August 2015.

The sooner they can build an online profile separate to Whale Oil the better.

Leave a comment


  1. Brown

     /  30th April 2016

    Someone is having a go and trying to build something newish. The effort is commendable.

  2. Conspiratoor

     /  30th April 2016

    Flying kites methinks. Classic chicken and egg. If Reagan is serious about doing this without ads or subs he will have to establish some cred and demo an outstanding product before the big money will come on board.
    Also interesting to speculate whether team Slater is an attractant or snake repellent

  3. Joe Bloggs

     /  30th April 2016

    The sooner they can build an online profile separate to Whale Oil the better.

    Freed is just putting lipstick on a pig as long as Slater’s involved in any way, shape or form, He is WO and WO is him, and anyone buying into the Freed fairytale will need to get down into the pigpen with Slater and wrestle in his muck.

    • Regan probably understands that, but I don’t know if he has a workable solution. It looks like WO is the only place he could go to get a big enough audience to solicit the financial support he needs.

      The response in comments was slight but it’s what happens off line that will matter.

  4. Gezza

     /  30th April 2016

    All right I’ll kick in a dollar instead of the 50c I was offering. But I want a receipt and liquidation preference if the receivers get called in.


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