27 mai 2020 – La COVID-19 a révélé à la fois l’importance de l’actualité locale et la précarité de son modèle d’affaires. En cette période de turbulences économiques, un groupe de journalistes-entrepreneurs se risque et collabore pour lancer de nouveaux médias numériques locaux.
C’est aujourd’hui qu’est lancé Indiegraf, un réseau de journalistes-entrepreneurs et d’éditeurs de médias numériques indépendants mettant en commun leurs ressources pour servir leurs populations locales de manière durable.
Indiegraf est un pari risqué qui repose sur la croyance que l’avenir de l’actualité locale est ici. « Obscurcie par les manchettes qui annoncent la mort de l’actualité locale se trouve une occasion générationnelle de transformer le monde de l’information pour mieux servir le public », explique Erin Millar, cofondatrice et cheffe de la direction.
“Je suis tellement contente de travailler avec ces femmes inspirantes qui partagent ma vision d’un journalisme plus équitable, propulsé par les communautés. Indiegraf change complètement le visage des médias canadiens grâce à une équipe de journalistes qui se soutiennent. Méfiez-vous de vos ambitions, elles se concrétiseront“ – Lela Savic, fondatrice de La Converse
Les éditeurs d’Indiegraf mettent en commun leurs ressources, que ce soit la technologie, le marketing et le personnel, les possibilités de financement et la formation nécessaires à l’essor des médias numériques et ainsi combler les lacunes en actualité locale dans le contexte économique actuel. L’objectif est d’aider les journalistes entrepreneurs à démarrer des médias d’information numériques et devenir viables.
Indiegraf a obtenu un financement de démarrage de la Google News Initiative et du Facebook Journalism Project, qui a également offert des crédits publicitaires pour aider les éditeurs à élargir leur public. La Inspirit Foundation a également contribué à la création d’Indiegraf.
« Élaborer des modèles d’affaires durables pour les éditeurs de presse demande une approche novatrice et une collaboration dans le secteur, deux ingrédients qui font qu’Indiegraf est si prometteur », a déclaré Kevin Chan, directeur des politiques publiques. « Chez Facebook, nous sommes conscients que nous avons une responsabilité à l’égard du monde de l’information, et c’est pourquoi nous faisons équipe avec les éditeurs de presse canadiens pour trouver de nouvelles solutions. Nous sommes ravis de poursuivre notre collaboration avec cette équipe et de favoriser l’innovation dans le monde de l’information au Canada. »
La nouvelle entreprise sera dirigée par Millar et la cofondatrice et directrice technologique Caitlin Havlak. Ce projet repose sur cinq années de collaboration au sein de l’entreprise spécialisée en nouvelles locales, The Discourse, un média financé par la communauté qui a remporté de nombreux prix en Amérique du Nord pour son journalisme ambitieux.
« L’entrepreneuriat et l’innovation sont absolument indispensables pour combler les lacunes en actualité locale », explique Millar, qui souligne que 50 journaux locaux ont cessé d’exister au Canada en raison de la COVID-19. « La propriété des médias ne doit pas être seulement pour les personnes qui savent coder ou qui sont fortunées, la propriété des médias c’est pour tout le monde qui croit en la mission du journalisme. »
La Converse, un média propulsé par la communauté au service des Canadiens francophones, créé par et pour ceux et celles qui veulent changer le monde.
Sun Peaks Independent News, un journal papier et média numérique qui a pour public une petite population montagnarde à l’intérieur de la Colombie-Britannique.
The Discourse Cowichan couvre l’actualité en profondeur, et est exploité par la population de Cowichan Valley en Colombie-Britannique sur l’île de Vancouver.
Peterborough Currents est un média numérique naissant qui propose un journalisme de profondeur. Il est bien ancré dans la communauté de Peterborough (Ontario).
IndigiNews, une coentreprise d’APTN News et de The Discourse. C’est une nouvelle plateforme numérique pour la nouvelle locale qui s’adresse aux Premières nations, aux Inuits et aux Métis de la vallée d’Okanagan en Colombie-Britannique, et qui servira sous peu l’île de Vancouver.
Spark YQL est le premier média indépendant de Lethbridge en Alberta. Il propose des articles qui suscitent le dialogue de manière constante, transparente et par le biais d’une représentation diversifiée.
Pour découvrir Indiegraf :
Allez à Indiegraf.com pour obtenir de plus amples renseignements et pour communiquer avec l’équipe.
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The reality sank in for Brandi Schier, owner, publisher and managing editor of Sun Peaks Independent News, on March 16. Sun Peaks Resort, the pillar of the town’s local economy, announced it would close for the season 48 hours later.
Sun Peaks is a small but fast-growing mountain town in B.C.’s interior that is economically reliant on skiers and summer vacationers. With tourism suddenly halted, its local businesses were in big trouble.
The first ad cancellation came the next day. A regional university, which had been in the midst of a major fundraising campaign, emailed to cancel a deal Brandi had closed just one week earlier after months of work. “I knew that if a big organization like a university was putting a halt on their promotion budget, I could expect similar from all my advertisers,” she said.
Sure enough, April’s advertising revenues fell 46 per cent. By May, ads were down 90 per cent. Like almost all independently-owned local newspapers, SPIN wasn’t sitting on a sufficient cash reserve to keep operating for more than a few weeks. But as the only local news source in her community, it was more needed than ever.
If SPIN was going to survive, Brandi needed a new business model. And she needed to launch it fast.
A new network of independent publishers
SPIN is one of six new local digital media we helped launch — or, in SPIN’s case, pivot to a new business model — during COVID-19.
And we’re just getting started. Today, we’re announcing Indiegraf, a new organization with a big goal: to give entrepreneurial journalists what they need to grow their own digital media and serve their local communities sustainably.
Indiegraf is a network of independent journalist-entrepreneurs and small, community-owned publishers sharing the resources they need to launch, grow and fill local news gaps. Built by news entrepreneurs for news entrepreneurs, we want Indiegraf to offer journalists starting their own news businesses the advantages of being part of a larger chain — access to capital, a proven model, technology, infrastructure to support their growth — without the burden of the big chains’ debt obligations, executive compensation, legacy business models and editorial directives.
Smack in the middle of a global pandemic may seem like a terrible time to give birth to a new local news company. But we think now is the perfect time for a new model of local news publishing, based on being small, digital, cost-efficient and independent, to take hold — and that’s why we accelerated Indiegraf’s plans to respond to the urgent need for local news innovation during COVID-19.
Small is beautiful
The challenges COVID-19 created for SPIN are hardly unique. As of May 13, 52 outlets in Canada temporarily or permanently closed as a result of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, according to the COVID-19 Media Impact Mapping Project. Of those, 50 are community newspapers. Another 29 outlets have cancelled some or all print editions. More than 2,000 workers have been laid off.
For context, in the 12 years before the coronavirus, 215 local news outlets closed in Canada. That means nearly 25 per cent of the closures that occured during a decade the news industry regularly decried as a “crisis” happened in just eight weeks.
But COVID-19 didn’t create the problems that contributed to this collapse — it just hastened trends that were already well underway. The decline of ad revenues is an obvious and major contributing factor. But traditional newspapers’ cost structure also puts them at a huge disadvantage in today’s economic circumstances, especially when compared to independently-owned digital outlets.
Newspaper chains were built in another time, when print advertising revenue made for thick profit margins that justified big corporations with departments upon departments and highly paid executives. “The print-based daily model — with presses, newsprint, trucks, big office buildings, and more to pay for — can only afford 12 to 20 per cent on content,” Ken Doctor wrote in the Nieman Lab last October. As the big chains cut expenses to respond to falling advertising revenues, that high-cost infrastructure delivered less and less of the part of the business with actual value: journalism.
But we should be able to provide better local news than ever. The technology at our disposal has dramatically lowered the barriers to entry and cost of delivering journalism to readers.
The model that Indiegraf supports flips the traditional cost structure on its head: by pooling resources to reduce the cost of the technology and marketing needed to distribute content, our partner publishers spend around 75 per cent of their funding on journalism. For example, our publishers share marketing staff so they can add top-notch talent to their team without paying the full cost. They share a common technology stack and developer so they can cost-efficiently access and maintain the tools they need.
Here’s the bottom line: in the traditional model, taking Doctor’s numbers, every dollar spent on producing journalism costs an extra $5 to $8.33 in infrastructure costs to get it to readers. In our model, every dollar spent on journalism costs only 33 cents on other stuff.
What’s with these zombie newspapers?
There’s a common refrain in the Canadian news industry that digital upstarts could never replace the essential journalism done by traditional players. This argument justified a series of government policies designed to save the old model at the expense of local news innovation.
Yet despite significant barriers, they are taking hold. The Discourse, the award-winning, community-funded outlet where we’ve worked for the past six years, published a report in late 2018 that revealed that the majority of the 93 outlets that launched in local markets during the same period when 260 closed were independent and digital. Since then many more digital startups have launched in Canada, in spite of being locked out of hundreds of millions of dollars committed to save local journalism by the Canadian government since 2018.
Moreover, in many cases traditional local outlets that still exist no longer provide quality journalism. According to the Public Policy Report report Mind The Gaps, the quality of civic coverage has declined even in communities that still have a local newspaper. The research found that articles were less likely to acknowledge opposing perspectives, provide illustrative examples, contain statistics or provide historical context.
In an extreme example, it appears that some community newspapers haven’t employed any actual journalists for some time. In preparing for Indiegraf’s launch, we contracted freelance journalist Tessa Vikander to track down community journalists who’d been laid off due to COVID-19. (I should note that Tessa, a talented local reporter herself, was available for hire after being laid off two times in as many years.)
Tessa searched community websites and e-editions. “So far I have identified seven apparent ghost papers,” she says, noting that we haven’t verified our findings with the owners of these newspapers.
“These small community newspapers contain local ads and classifieds, but all of the news stories come from reporters who work at newspapers in other towns but work for the same parent company. In other words, although it appears a small town may have had a newspaper, there were no journalists assigned to cover that town uniquely.”
Given that Tessa only analyzed about half of the several dozen newspapers that recently stopped publication, we believe there are more ghost papers out there.
We must stop pretending that “saving” newspapers like these is anything other than preserving zombie businesses that extract local advertising revenue to serve debt obligations without producing any value to their local community.
The promise of a new model
The great irony in all of this is that demand for local journalism has skyrocketed. There’s nothing broken about the product of local journalism; the public understands its value in the era of COVID-19, as is evidenced by huge increases in traffic and subscriptions.
Indiegraf is about empowering entrepreneurial journalists to cost-efficiently provide news valuable enough that their local community will pay for it. This model is based on our research, experimentation, failures and hard-earned successes at The Discourse. After manyfits and starts over six years, and with support from Facebook’s Local News Accelerator, we’ve finally developed a promising and replicable approach to delivering quality local journalism sustainably.
Led by reporter Jacqueline Ronson, The Discourse Cowichan provides the Cowichan Valley, a rural area on Vancouver Island with a population of 85,000, with in-depth stories distributed via email and social media. Its revenue model works like this: The Discourse Cowichan provides its journalism for free and invites its most engaged readers to become financial supporters. In the past eight months, its audience and reader-revenue has grown by over 500 per cent. That growth, combined with small grants and sponsorships, enabled us to grow it to two full-time reporters, a part-time writer and occasional interns and freelancers, supported by our Vancouver-based team.
Here’s the secret to how Jacqueline’s team delivers journalism valuable enough people will pay for it: they ask their community what to cover. They don’t report on everything (no local sports and little crime reporting). They don’t crank out surface-level stories in pursuit of traffic. They only dig into stories their community really needs and they don’t waste money on anything else.
As it turns out, people will pay for that.
A big idea to nurture small media
Last fall we started working on the big idea that led to Indiegraf. We wondered: What would it take to provide the engine for other Jacqueline Ronsons to serve their communities?
Here’s our back-of-the-envelope math: if we help a journalist-entrepreneur grow to 5,000 email subscribers and convert 10 per cent to paying $150 per year ($12.50 per month), that generates $75,000 in annual revenue, enough to support one full-time reporter and some technology and marketing support. By connecting the publisher to additional funding opportunities, it can grow from there.
As a beta test to kick the tires on our idea to develop a network of independent digital outlets sharing resources, we created the Indie News Challenge. With funding from the Facebook Journalism Project and Inspirit Foundation, the nine-week program aimed to help journalist-entrepreneurs and small publishers launch new products and grow.
That’s how we met Brandi Schier and SPIN.
SPIN’s story represents so much of this moment in local news. When she purchased the ad-based print newspaper five years ago with a journalism degree and more than a decade in tourism marketing experience under her belt, she was admittedly naive about how much work it would take to keep it afloat. Since then, she’d come to understand just how difficult it was to sustain a publication completely reliant on local advertising in a small town.
Brandi was one of 40 applicants to the Indie News Challenge. Along with six other selected projects, she started doing market research to prepare to launch a reader-supported digital model. She didn’t know whether her community was willing to pay for SPIN’s work. But after surveying community members, she found out that 70 per cent of SPIN readers said they’d directly financially support the outlet. That was a lightbulb moment for Schier.
As a next step we developed a small test campaign inviting SPIN’s audience to support an investigation into problems with the local water utility. We planned to launch it March 17. We were nervous. Would we be able to replicate the results of The Discourse Cowichan?
Then COVID-19 arrived.
A generational opportunity to transform the news industry
On March 27, ten days after that first ad cancellation, we helped SPIN launch a very different campaign than planned.
“The reality is that the local advertising business model we relied on before COVID-19 is unlikely to return any time soon, or ever,” Brandi wrote to her readers.
Brandi asked them to commit to a one-year membership, paid up front. In just over two weeks, she raised nearly $30,000 from her readers.
When you compare $30,000 to the scope of the economic challenges facing local news, it may seem paltry. But when your newsroom spends most of its money on producing journalism, $30,000 goes a long way — it’s enough to keep Brandi’s small team employed through 2020 when combined with emergency grants.
What’s remarkable about SPIN’s story is that Brandi pulled this off in a tiny town. Sun Peaks has 2,000 full-time residents and SPIN boasts 1,100 email subscribers.
Now, imagine all of the communities across North America where tiny newsrooms like SPIN could be providing urgently-needed local news. That’s the future we’re imagining.
In the weeks since March 16, when the world ground to a halt even in little Sun Peaks, we’ve helped launch five other digital media:
IndigiNews, a new platform serving local First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, soon expanding to Vancouver Island
Vancouver B.C., May 27 2020 – COVID-19 has made clear both the importance of local news — and the precariousness of its business model. Into these economic headwinds, a group of journalist-entrepreneurs are taking a leap of faith and collaborating to launch new local digital news outlets.
Today marks the launch of Indiegraf, a network of journalist-entrepreneurs and independently-owned digital publishers sharing resources to serve their local communities sustainably.
Indiegraf is a big bet — that the future of local news is here. “Obscured by headlines about a local news apocalypse is a generational opportunity to transform the news industry to serve our communities better,” says co-founder and CEO Erin Millar.
“I can honestly say I don’t know where Sun Peaks Independent News would be today without this,” says Brandi Schier, publisher and managing editor of Sun Peaks Independent News, a 17-year-old newspaper that launched a digital, reader-supported model during COVID-19. “Indiegraf is allowing us to plant the seeds for a more sustainable news model for the future of our community.”
Designed for today’s economic circumstances, Indiegraf’s publishers pool resources including technology, marketing and revenue staff, funding opportunities and training needed to successfully grow digital outlets to fill local news gaps. The goal is to make it easier for entrepreneurial journalists to launch digital news outlets and become sustainable.
Indiegraf is supported with seed funding from the Google News Initiative and Facebook Journalism Project, which also provided in-kind advertising credits to help publishers grow their audience. The Inspirit Foundation also supported Indiegraf’s development.
“Building sustainable business models for news publishers requires the innovative thinking and industry collaboration that makes Indiegraf so promising,” said Kevin Chan, Head of Public Policy. “At Facebook, we know we have a responsibility to the news industry, which is why we’ve been working with Canadian publishers to find new solutions. We’re thrilled to continue working with this team to support news innovation in Canada.”
The new company will be led by Millar and co-founder and CTO Caitlin Havlak. It builds from their work together over the past five years at the successful local news publisher The Discourse, a community-funded outlet that has won numerous awards across North America for its ambitious journalism.
“Entrepreneurship and innovation are urgently needed to fill gaps in local news,” says Millar, noting that 50 community newspapers have closed in Canada as a result of COVID-19. “Media ownership can’t only be for people who can code or have buckets of money — it’s for anyone who believes in the mission of journalism.”
The Discourse Cowichan provides in-depth news, powered by the community in the Cowichan Valley B.C. on Vancouver Island.
Peterborough Currents is a digital news startup that provides in-depth journalism with deep community roots in Peterborough Ont..
IndigiNews, a new venture of The Discourse in partnership with APTN News. It’s a new digital platform for local news serving First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, and will soon expand to Vancouver Island.
La Converse, a media outlet fuelled by dialogue that serves francophone Canadians and bridges divides.
Spark YQL is Lethbridge Alta.’s first independent news outlet. It tells stories that spark conversation through consistency, transparency, and inclusive representation.
To learn more about Indiegraf:
Visit Indiegraf.com for more information and to contact the team.
Subscribe to the Indie Publisher, a new weekly newsletter that demystifies news entrepreneurship. Every Friday, H.G. Watson, the former managing editor of J-Source, will bring you practical tips, case studies and interviews with people who are taking the news into their own hands.
I’m so sick of writing stories about the end of the news media.
When I was editor of J-Source, I lost track of the number of stories I wrote about layoffs or newspaper closures. It wasn’t quite a weekly occurrence, but it happened enough to make me feel a bit jaded.
As a counterbalance, I found myself seeking out the good news stories. I profiled Allison Smith, a small publisher who is building a business out of provincial political coverage. I wrote about the launch of Vocal Fry, an inclusive and affordable podcast studio. I found out how The Athletic built its Canadian audience. Even after I left J-Source, I find myself drawn to the people who are trying to build better journalism no matter where they are, because I want this industry to continue to thrive and grow. (I’d also very much like to continue to be employed in it.)
It’s past the point of cliché to say that people want stories more than ever. But there’s nothing like a global pandemic to hammer the point home. Even as advertising revenue drops, media outlets are experiencing record high readership rates.
And there are underemployed journalists in communities everywhere who know what the stories are; they know who needs to be held accountable; and they know what needs investigating. All they need are the tools to build a sustainable news outlet.
That’s where we come in.
The Indie Publisher is a new newsletter from Indiegraf that will demystify media entrepreneurship. Every Friday, we’ll bring you practical tips, case studies and interviews with people who are taking the news into their own hands. Because media ownership isn’t only for people who can code or have buckets of money — it’s for anyone who believes in the mission of journalism.
In some of our first issues, we’ll be explaining why now — yes, now — is actually a great time to think about taking the leap. We’ll look at media outlets that have pivoted to COVID-19 coverage, and we’ll find out what it was that made some founders decide entrepreneurship was for them. I’ll be joined by Cherise Seucharan, a former staffer at the Star Vancouver who’s also been published in the Guardian, the Tyee and CBC. (We’re also looking to expand our writing roster — if you have a great pitch about publishing, send it my way!)
We’ll also take a good look at some of the challenges small businesses face. It’s never easy to be your own boss. Make that double for being in the journalism industry. And then triple it for trying during a global health crisis. There’s no sense in pretending it will be easy. But it will also be immensely rewarding.
I won’t lie — I’ve dreamed of opening my own outlet for a long time. So for me, this is an opportunity to answer some of my own questions. But I also want to answer yours. How much money should you have in the bank before you start a business? Should you become a non-profit or a for-profit entity? How do you think like a businessperson when you’ve been trained to think like a journalist? Once a month, we’ll open up the newsletter for our mailbag edition, where we’ll answer all those questions and more. (If you’re a keener, you can send me a question right now at [email protected].)
In the Indie Publisher, you’ll also hear about opportunities to start your entrepreneurial journey. We’ll share announcements from Indiegraf, including when we launch our Indie Network community and our call for proposals for the next round of Indie News Challenge participants.
The next few years will be transformative ones for the media industry. We want to make sure you have the tools to be at the forefront of the change.
Indiegraf Media Inc
308 - 877 E Hastings Street