100th edition special: Why we do what we do at Indiegraf

Takeaways and tips from the team that works directly with our partner publishers.

Indiegraf debuted in early 2020 with the launch of the Indie News Challenge (INC), a bootcamp-style mentorship program that provided training and hands-on support to a small group of journalists-entrepreneurs. This first cohort of Indiegraf partner publishers — many of which are still with us today — allowed the then-tiny team to start a test-and-learn journey that has since permeated our entire ethos. 

When sisters Erin Millar and Caitlin Havlak started Indiegraf, they were looking to do things differently from other industry players: “We wanted to create a network of news, and we came to a realization that it was important for it not to be owned by us. We wanted to have a diversified network of small independent outlets that were accountable to their communities because they were owned by people from those communities,” shares Caitlin. 

Today, Indiegraf is a network of over 40 partner publishers pooling resources and knowledge gained from working in startup news environments. Our team has expanded over time in response to our growing partnerships, which have also enabled us to broaden our impact: “To me, was has been so exciting about Indiegraf in the last couple of years is the opportunity to expand our impact from the community that the team at The Discourse was serving to so many communities across North America,” Erin said.

We’re on a mission to make news entrepreneurship a feasible and rewarding career choice for journalists everywhere. We take as much off publishers’ plates by acting as a one-stop-shop for technology, strategy and hands-on problem solving — all geared toward supporting the people who are building the responsible, equitable and community-first media we believe readers deserve.

We are passionate about independent journalism and its potential for impact. And that passion comes alive with every chance we get to support a new journalist-entrepreneur. To celebrate the milestone of our 100th newsletter, we asked the Indiegraf team about the most rewarding aspect of working with independent publishers like yourself. Here’s what they shared:

Erin Millar

The folks that we serve through Indiegraf are the people on the ground that are rebuilding community news and doing it in a way that’s much more responsive, equitable and reflective of the diversity of the communities they serve — many of which have been underserved or in some cases harmed by legacy media. That community impact is what really motivates me.

Caitlin Havlak

I really love working with publishers, helping them shape and make their product ideas come alive — through their website as well as through troubleshooting and problem-solving their audience growth and revenue potential. There’s something really exciting there for me as an individual.

Getting to support publishers deliver the kind of news that is essential to helping their audience understand themselves, their community, and their neighbors — especially in underserved communities that have been overlooked by legacy media.

Joe Lanane

Every publisher I meet teaches me something new about this industry, providing constant inspiration that journalism is early into an exciting new era.

Allison McIlmoyl

I love being able to support people who are building something that will truly benefit their communities. Our publishers are all so passionate and creative. I am thankful I get to be involved, as I get to be inspired every day.

Carol Cavaleiro

The most rewarding aspect of working with independent publishers is helping to foster a more plural and democratic news environment.

Rachel Chen

It’s that tangible difference. When you work with local news, you actually hear from locals immediately when a story impacts them. I think local media is really nice in that it actually adds to the community. And you’re reminded that news can actually make an impact.

Vanessa Reid

It’s incredibly inspiring to collaborate with so many folks who are working on their passion projects! All of the publishers in our network are deeply involved in their communities and their genuine passion and dedication absolutely radiates from the stories they’re telling. Being surrounded by that energy every day is the most amazing feeling! I’m constantly in awe of the important and creative work our publishers are putting out there, and it’s an honour to help them highlight that work online.

Emily Fearon

My favourite thing to see is folks innovating in the journalism industry and succeeding. It’s encouraging and refreshing.

Ramona Wildeman

It is definitely inspiring to work with publishers who are on a mission; and knowing that we can support them in achieving their goals is the best. I also love hearing about their wins. There is nothing better than seeing the work that they put in be rewarded with new readers / revenue so they can continue.

Pearl Leung

The sheer amount of effort and dedication indie publishers put into their work gives me hope. It’s fulfilling to work with folks who truly believe in what they do and want to make a positive impact on their communities.

Kay Watanabe

I like involving the publishers’ creative work through our technical aspects and seeing the success/improvement of influencing the community. That energetic moment encourages me. All the hard work of indie publishers inspires me as well.

Amy Van Es

The most rewarding part of working with our founder-journalists is helping them find new audiences who need the information they’re publishing. For me, the connection between them and their communities is so beautiful to witness.

Shadi Amighpey

One of the most rewarding aspects is seeing how these publishers are able to take action on subjects that they find important and raise awareness for their particular community. I am always inspired when I hear about their successes and am happy to help them in technical ways.

Elizabeth Hambuchen

Being able to help publishers build on the boots-on-the-ground work they’re doing is extremely rewarding. We’re amplifying the work already being done in their community, so helping them reach more people and get support in return is awesome work to do each day.

Sam Hoisington

I like helping people make their dreams a reality. That’s exactly what we do when we help journalists increase their revenue.

Elena Coll

Getting to read the most thoughtful, impactful, responsible and empathetic storytelling out there. Coming from a media landscape that exploits and misinforms, it’s refreshing to see journalists putting so much effort into adding value to their communities.

Tips from the Indiegraf team

Listen to the communities you’re serving, wether through reader surveys or engagement activities — via email, social or at on-the-ground events. Whatever it is, build a practice of constant listening, one that reflects back on the product itself. For me, this is key for the impact of our work, but also for creating products that really succeed.
~ Erin

Frequency and touchpoints are critical. That doesn’t have to mean pumping out content -we don’t need to feed the beast. What we need to do is be smart about the content that we’re working with through automation and repackaging. All of that helps build a relationship and a routine with your readers.
~ Caitlin

Also, be smart about your brand identity. We often don’t think about that because we’re thinking about product, but your visual brand identity is also critical to your success. Putting the resources into building something really beautiful can make a huge difference.
~ Caitlin

Get really clear about what your product is. If you want to grow your audience, you have to be really clear about what you’re offering them. It’s especially relevant for local news because you’re competing with so many options for people’s attention. And we don’t want to get people’s attention for the sake of getting people’s attention. We want to actually have impact.
~ Rachel

Make use of your network! If you’re an Indiegraf publisher then you have access to so many cool people who are doing similar work. If you’re not, a) why aren’t you? (😛) and b) share your work with your network, especially fundraising campaigns – this can be as easy as asking all the writers you work with to retweet you.
~ Emily

Make the effort to connect with others and learn from their successes and tribulations.
~ Ramona

Don’t be afraid to look outside of the industry for audience development inspiration! There are lots of great free marketing resources, case studies, and examples out there. You can put an indie publisher spin on what other companies are doing.
~ Pearl

Starting a business — especially in an industry that’s evolving so rapidly right now — is a challenge. Remember to honor yourself as a full person and add some ease and joy to your entrepreneurship journey! Easier said than done, I know. But hopefully our collaboration will help share the workload so you can focus on the thing you love most: storytelling!
~ Amy

Resend your fundraising emails to people who didn’t open them the first time.
~ Sam

Find that magic place at the intersection of what your audience wants and what journalism you can do uniquely well consistently and then double down. Once you find that spark (and it’s not always easy!), organic momentum will make audience development efforts far easier.
~ Tim

You might be good at something, but is it the best use of your time? Because most of your time should be focused on improving quality of product.
~ Joe

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