How two publications are turning community members into journalists

Journalism is not an accessible industry.

For many people from marginalized communities, journalism school can be prohibitively expensive and not at all accommodating. Folks who identify as BIPOC or low-income often miss out on opportunities to break into the industry. As a result, Canadian newsrooms don’t reflect the diversity of the wider population they serve.

This is a barrier that Lela Savic, editor-in-chief of La Converse, is trying to destroy. La Converse is a community-driven francophone publication based in Quebec. It aims to make journalism and information accessible to everyone.

“We take a very different approach to journalism, not everyone can master it,” she says. “We invest a lot of time in our stories and think about the different angles we can take.”

The lack of diversity and accessibility in journalism is personal to her – she experienced it first hand. Savic was a single mother when she attended journalism school many years ago. Her mother would babysit her daughter while she attended evening classes to finish her degree. It took her a long time to finish her degree, especially since there wasn’t financial support for single mothers at her school at the time.

Savic now spends a lot of time working with journalists from communities traditionally underrepresented by Canadian media. She also trains her contributors who haven’t attended journalism school or worked in journalism before.

“I basically turned myself into a journalism professor. We talk about interviews, storytelling, solutions journalism… Our training sessions are pretty ad-hoc,” Savic says.

Savic focuses on the basics, like making sure to work with her contributors on how to thoroughly dissect and report on a story.

She also runs storytelling workshops and anti-oppressive training to help her writers develop their critical thinking skills to approach journalism differently.

For Savic, La Converse is not a BIPOC-centered media outlet; it is an outlet that accurately reflects the population of Quebec. The province’s media is still dominated by white people, which doesn’t reflect the diversity of the province at all, she says. Accessible journalism plays an important part in decolonizing Quebec media.

“It is hard for an emerging reporter of colour in Quebec to find a job because of systemic racism. If you didn’t get a chance for an education, or if you weren’t given the chance to do a paid internship, you will never be able to break into the industry.”

A similar model is being used at IndigiNews, an independent Indigenous news outlet based in the Okanagan and Vancouver Island areas. Emilee Gilpin, the paper’s managing editor, aims to decolonize the journalism industry by reporting on and amplifying Indigenous stories.

Many of her writers do not have formal journalism training, so she hosts workshops on topics such as anti-oppression and trauma-informed journalism. She also brings in other journalists to talk about their experiences and expertise in the field. Gilpin hosts these workshops on Zoom where she will screen-share her presentations, documents and other educational materials to her team.

“There’s not a huge amount of Indigenous journalists in Canada. When I first started at IndigiNews, I was an advisor to the project. I wanted to hire journalists who had experience and could hit the ground running, but the tricky part was that we don’t have a big population of Indigenous journalists,” she says.

But decolonization and anti-racism work should never be on the shoulders of BIPOC people. Journalism schools also play a large role in decolonizing the industry. Schools can start by reaching out to Indigenous communities and teach students the importance of journalism, says Gilpin. They also need to hire more full-time Indigenous faculty, because representation matters.

“If somebody says that an established Indigenous journalist is teaching at this particular journalism school, I am more likely to join that program because I can see what they do and read what they’ve written,” says Gilpin.

Journalism schools also need to break down financial barriers for students from marginalized communities. Savic had a hard time finding financial support as a single parent when she attended journalism school. She believes that there needs to be more scholarships for students who are low-income, BIPOC or single parents.

“If there are no scholarships, there are no ways for a person from a marginalized group to enter the profession. This is especially true if someone is required to apply to internships, which are largely unpaid, in order to graduate,” says Savic.

In the news

Opportunities

And one more thing… 

Today we want to highlight a great new initiative, Shared Bylines, a scholarship and mentorship program for BIPOC Canadian student journalists. Their team is looking for mentors and funders.

How the right tech stack can help your news publication

Tech stacks are an integral part of any start-up publication. But it’s hard to know what to look for in a stack and how it can help you get the audience growth and revenue needed to be successful. 

Ryan Tuck, partner at Blue Engine Collaborative, has been working to help media companies and start-ups generate audience growth and revenue through digital strategies.

“It’s one of those things you see again and again — best laid intentions doomed by bad stack, doomed by bad technology,” says Tuck.

In a recent interview with Indiegraf, Tuck outlines all the ins and outs of tech stacks, specifically those for independent publishers and start-up media companies.

Daina Lawrence: What is a tech stack?

Ryan Tuck: At its most basic, it’s the collection of platforms and software that you use to fuel your business. Sometimes you call it a technology suite. It is the pieces of technology you use to operate from A to Z.

D.L.: Why are tech stacks important?

R.T.: With a media business, especially a B2C (business-to-client, meaning a business that sells a product or service directly to consumers), where you’re getting first-party data, you have subscribers or members, and where you have connections to external people outside your building, you need to make sure that your pieces are working together and they’re working in a way that you expect them to. 

Where you find margin or where you find success, especially as a small or starting media organization, is in finding efficiencies, finding the place where technology can do what it does best — which is work for you.

Having a technology stack that’s well-integrated, well set up and well-maintained can open a lot of doors, especially as a beginner media organization. Without this, there would be high barriers to entry and to success. In those beginning phases when you’re really trying to grow something, technology can take on an added level of importance.

D.L.: What are some tech stack features that independent publishers should be looking at?

R.T.: One thing I don’t think people think about enough is: Do your pieces talk to each other? Does your data, in particular, talk to each other? Do you have a list of people that subscribe to your newsletter? And then another list of people who donate, depending on your model?

Do you have a sense of who’s visiting your website, downloading your podcast, watching your video? Very frequently the answer is “no” because you need a central data platform, or to have set up automations, to be able to do that.

But, there are ways around that too.

D.L.: Okay, so what are some of those work arounds?

R.T.: One of the easiest things to do is just to set up an email service provider, and have your website, then just set up your payment platform integration. And those things will not inherently talk to each other. 

There are some basic things that you can even use in Google Analytics to track segments (of data). There are also full suites you can get to solve this issue. It’s not a prerequisite, but it is really nice when these elements all talk to each other.

When the data talks to each other or when you find a way to make the data talk to each other, through your own manual interventions or integrations, that’s really critical to your tech stack.

D.L.: Back to the key features. What else would you recommend for those looking into a tech stack?

R.T.: I would say that you need to make sure the technology is working for you and not the other way around. You need to make sure that the pieces of your stack are easy to use.

You also need to think of your technology more holistically. Never launch yourself so narrowly into a space, like with an email service provider, without thinking: How does this integrate with my payment provider? These things should not be viewed in isolation because there will be a reaction for whatever action you take. Use a vision board, use post-it notes, use whatever you need to get that visual of the whole picture and what you’re trying to achieve.

D.L.: When do you invest in this kind of technology?

R.T.: If you are a reader revenue or a direct-to-consumer model, you should be doing things like evaluating customer lifetime value. In other words, that whole revenue picture.

For instance, if I invest in this technology and I spend $20,000, is it going to advance my goals in respect to audience building and reader revenue? Knowing that customer lifetime value number allows you to view that investment in an intelligent, financial ledger kind of sense because then you will know that this kind of investment will result in x-number of new audiences, new subscribers, etc. At first it will be an estimate, but you will be able to see that number more concretely over time.    

Similar to hiring, there is a certain “look before you leap” kind of investment you’re going to have to be comfortable with. You need to figure out where that threshold is for you.

There are certainly smaller scale ways that you can launch a media business. But there’s also a certain level of upside to investing in a technology stack, making that investment and then knowing what your goals are for that investment. 


Looking for a tech stack of your own? Check out Indiegraf’s Indie Tech. Our tech stack offers everything you need to grow your audience and revenue plus ongoing developer support — without a big upfront investment or dozens of ongoing cloud subscription fees that really add up. 


In the news

  • We spent most of this week pouring over Project Oasis, an amazing new resource that tracks “the growing number of locally focused digital news publications in the U.S. and Canada and to share information about the choices they have made along their pathways to sustainability.”
  • Mission Metrics, a new pilot program from Oaklandside, will track the community impact of its journalism.
  • We urge you to use the Asian American Journalists Association guidance on reporting on the Atlanta shootings.
  • The New York Times is done with its massive Facebook cooking group.  

Opportunities

And one more thing… 

Check out this fantastic list from The Supplement of independent Canadian news outlets you can support. 

The Breach is Canadian journalism for readers ready to transform the future

This week, Canadians welcomed a much-anticipated collaboration of justice-focused journalists and videographers to the indie journalism scene: The Breach.

Within hours of launching on March 10, The Breach had already raised tens of thousands of dollars from its Founding Members campaign. We caught up with contributing editor Martin Lukacs, as he refreshed his campaign spreadsheet for the umpteenth time and fielded text messages, to learn more about its “journalism for transformation.”

You just launched last week. What’s the response been like?

It’s seriously overwhelming. I think it goes to show just how much appetite there is for this kind of journalism — journalism that actually reflects people’s hunger for transformative politics, that doesn’t just malign or dismiss their desire for change.

So, what is The Breach?

The Breach is an independent media outlet that will be adversarial, action-oriented and critically optimistic. We think it’s time to reject notions of “objectivity”; it’s possible to be transparent about having strong, progressive values and opinions and still be rigorous and fair in how we do journalism.

There’s this oft repeated adage about journalism: speak truth to power. But the phrase we prefer is one that Naomi Klein has used, that journalism should speak truth about power. I think that people tend to overestimate how much the powerful are phased by the truth. They aren’t really. What the powerful care about is power.

And we think journalism has a role to play in helping people better understand how power works, who has it in our society, to whose benefit it’s being used and how ordinary people can have more of it if they organize.

What type of content will we see?

There’s so much good independent media that exists in Canada. But I think that there are gaps that we would like to fill around in-depth journalism on everything from corporate influence on politics, land theft under the guise of reconciliation, racism and policing, foreign policy and the forces fueling the climate crisis. We’re planning video shows and explainers, as well as analysis and profiles of emergent social movements.

One thing that’s sorely missing is journalism that helps imagine what a just future could look like, and how we might get there. I think the team of journalists and writers we’ve assembled have done that brilliantly.

Writers like El Jones, for instance, who has been incredible at forecasting what a world without prisons, without police, without carceral logic would mean for people. Or filmmakers like Avi Lewis, whose video storytelling with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Molly Crabapple in A Message from the Future imagines what society would look like, decades into the future, if we could win a Green New Deal now. Or Pamela Palmater and Russ Diabo, two of our Indigenous columnists who are brilliant at helping understand the profoundly beneficial impact we’d see in Canada if Indigenous rights were actually respected and implemented.

Where did this begin?

Some of our team members were involved previously with a project called The Dominion and the Media Co-op, which was a bimonthly magazine and network of local media outlets which published from 2003 onward. It did some innovative things in terms of building a progressive media model — including being a solidarity co-operative in which readers had democratic say over our decisions. It’s a real hustle to do independent media, but a few of us decided that the time was right to try it again.

And just as we were starting to strategize about how we could pull it off, we got wind of the inaugural Indie News Challenge. The timing was serendipitous. After going through their bootcamp, which helped us hone our vision and learn lessons about the business side of running an outlet (not always the forte of journalists!), we became one of Indiegraf’s inaugural publishers. Indiegraf has been an incredible support. The chance to combine Indiegraf’s digital, fundraising and organizational know-how with our previous media experience has been instrumental to any of our success so far.

Who is The Breach for?

The Breach is for anyone who is hungry for transformative journalism and transformative change. You know, two-thirds of people in this country think the “economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.” Almost three-quarters want to see a Green New Deal. And more than half have a positive opinion of socialism, if you can trust the polls. But what media is there that this majority can turn to for a reflection of their values, answers to their doubts, stories showing that another world is both popular and possible?

How does it feel to launch the same week Buzzfeed shut down Huffpost Canada and laid off 23 journalists?

Mixed emotions! The corporate-owned model of journalism hasn’t only failed its readers, it has failed its journalists. On the other hand, we’re also in a moment of renaissance for independent media in Canada. And it feels really exciting to be throwing our hat in the ring at this moment.

I actually think there’s never been a better time for reader or member-supported independent media, in a moment of predictable crisis for the establishment media that is becoming apparent to more and more people.

Any words of advice for the prospective journalist-entrepreneurs out there?

There’s that great line from Samuel Beckett: Try again. Fail again. Fail better. As with so much of journalism, you have to be ready to make a lot of mistakes.

The Breach is inviting people to become founding members to sustain its in-depth, ad-free journalism. 


Have you ever wanted to start your own news outlet? Applications are now open for the May cohort of the Indie News Challenge, Indiegraf’s flagship accelerator to help independent digital media launch and grow.


In the news

Opportunities

Have a tip, pitch, question to ask, link to include, or opportunity you want to promote? Send it to me!

And one more thing… 

We just want to take a minute to appreciate all of you for supporting Indiegraf this year. It’s been a very exciting few months with several of our partner publishers launching and starting membership campaigns. And we can’t wait for you to see what’s to come.

Meet our February 2021 INC cohort

Indiegraf is thrilled to announce the newest cohort of the Indie News Challenge. 

From stories of people and places in the Coachella Valley, to anti-racist reporting in Tacoma, Wash., to environmental news in Michigan, this cohort of INC represents a diverse group of journalists from across North America.

What is the Indie News Challenge?

Over nine weeks starting in March, a group of journalist-entrepreneurs from across North America will work together to build and grow their outlets. Through weekly Zoom seminars, exercises, one-on-one feedback with experts in the field and a community of like-minded peers, they’ll learn how to develop their idea into a clear product with early traction that they can present to funders.  

The previous cohorts of INC have accomplished so much. Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson expanded Peterborough Currents from 20 to nearly 2,000 email subscribers. Hannah Sung created her fast-growing newsletter At The End Of The Day. La Converse grew its newsletter subscribers and conducted market research that contributed to a funding proposal that secured multiple grants. Sask Dispatch launched a Founding Member campaign that generated over $10,000 from readers to fund their website build. The Resolve launched its newsletter, grew its first 2,000 subscribers and developed a clear plan that secured seed funding.

Introducing the third INC cohort  

We’re excited to welcome these eight projects* to INC and the Indiegraf network. 

Inua Inuit Media, Nunavut

Inua Inuit Media is a planned independent Inuit media outlet to be based in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Jessie Fraser is an Inuk and former journalist who advocates for her culture and language, and looks forward to gaining knowledge and experience in order to further elevate Inuit worldviews.

Killaq Enuaraq-Strauss, also based out of Iqaluit, previously studied English and anthropology at the University of Florida. They are currently studying Inuktut language at Pirurvik Centre with hopes of creating a comprehensive Inuktut language curriculum for Inuit Nunangat (Inuit regions).

“We at Inua Inuit Media recognize the importance of using media as a tool for reclaiming sovereignty by creating a space to tell our stories, while allowing for artistic expression and the sharing of perspectives and opinions without being diluted by colonial frameworks,” says the team.

Planet Detroit, Mich.

Planet Detroit is a weekly email newsletter that aims to help readers get smarter about the environment in Detroit and the state of Michigan. 

Nina Ignaczak is a Detroit-based journalist and the founder and editor of Planet Detroit. Erica Schopmeyer is also based in Detroit, and manages Planet Detroit’s development efforts, partnerships and audience growth.

“We focus on explanatory, solutions-based and investigative reporting, and have a deep commitment to community engagement around local environmental issues,” says Schopmeyer.  

Since launching in 2019, Planet Detroit has been filling a gap in climate and environmental reporting in Southeast Michigan, and now the team behind it is looking for ways to grow and expand its capacity. 

Hyper-local site for Gen Z in Atlanta, TBA

Cheri Pruitt-Bonner is an early-career journalist who worked for MSNBC and Georgia Public Broadcasting. She’s based in Atlanta, where 28 per cent of the population is under 25 — and there is no news directly for them. “Opportunity is nutty. I was given a chance and flew with it and so can you, reader. Tomorrow is promised to no one. Help others with your talents today,” she says.

Do you want to be a part of the next Indie News Challenge?

Applications are open now for our May cohort.

We are currently accepting project ideas from startup and established publishers in Canada and the United States. If you’re ready to start sharing your idea with the world, then INC is for you. We especially encourage BIPOC journalists and storytellers to apply. We are committed to supporting the growth of Black, Indigenous and POC-owned media.

Anti-racist hyper-local news in Tacoma, TBA

Jason Gamboa is a Tacoma-based creative entrepreneur and community organizer who served on the Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and currently serves on the board of The Grand Cinema and the Tacoma Creates Advisory Board.

“In college, I wanted to become a writer. I wasn’t ready to pursue a career in journalism then and settled for a day job,” Gamboa says. “But, eventually in my spare time, I started telling stories through streetwear, organizing cultural events, and working with underserved communities. Now, it’s time to build our platform and tell our stories.”

Hyper-local site for Interior B.C., TBA

Brandi Schier is the publisher of Sun Peaks Independent News in Sun Peaks, B.C. and is dedicated to learning and living new journalism models to better serve communities. 

“I am working to launch a new digital publication in Interior B.C., that embraces in-depth journalism and engaged community reporting to shed light on important stories requiring a slower approach than the regular news cycle,” she says.

National opinion site for BIPOC, TBA

Jeanie Tran is a journalist based in Tkaronto/Toronto who most recently worked at BNN Bloomberg as a digital producer. She hopes to launch an online magazine about everything and anything to do with race in Canada, featuring opinion columns written by racialized people, with no claims to objectivity. 

“Race and racism are always relevant, and discussing them openly, honestly and personally is necessary for the dismantling of white supremacy and its hold on our everyday lives, systems and institutions,” says Tran.

Hyper-local site for the Coachella Valley, TBA

Mark Talkington is a California-based journalist with three decades experience in print and online news media, serving for the better part of the past 20 years as a homepage editor at MSN.com. “I’m hoping to launch a digital digest that tells the stories of people and places in the Southern California desert,” he says. 

*One more project will be announced at a later date.


We’d like to introduce you to two members of our new INC cohort, so you can learn a little more about the journalist-entrepreneurs we’re working with.


Meet the publisher: Mark Talkington

What led you to applying for this round of the Indie News Challenge?

I’ve seen the work being done by members of earlier cohorts and really admire what they’ve done in and for their communities. When I saw that Indiegraf has a formal program to help independent journalists launch similar efforts, I jumped at the chance. It perfectly aligns with what I hope to accomplish in my community

Did you ever plan on becoming a journalist-entrepreneur?

Not exactly. My very first publisher, at the weekly newspaper in my hometown, became my mother-in-law. So, I saw up close and personal how difficult it is to run a community news operation and then ran in the complete opposite direction. I eventually ended up working at Microsoft for the better part of 20 years. I’m fortunate that now I can try doing community-service journalism as a passion project in true service to a community I love.

How has news coverage in the Coachella Valley changed in the last few years? How will your project address the gaps?

Over the past few years, the corporate media budget axe has swung hard at the paper. Its staff has dwindled, and they are now trying to cover an area with nine cities that stretches more than 164,000-square-miles with about a dozen reporters.

I’m focused right now on a free daily newsletter I launched covering only one city — Palm Springs. That’s where I live. Monday to Friday I do basic, community-service journalism that I learned at weekly newspapers, trying to serve the people who keep all the resorts, restaurants and golf courses running. Cops, courts and city hall: for sure. But I’m also interested in providing news nobody else has time or interest in covering. Teachers being honoured at the monthly school board meeting, a diaper drive, extra hours at the food bank, what’s going on at the senior centre — those types of things.


Meet the publisher: Cheri Pruitt-Bonner

Had you always wanted to start your own project or is this something that’s evolved in the last few years?

I’ll be honest with you, I probably just would have been fine if I was in a regular corporate job. But with different times and things just changing, I was like, there’s nothing really holding me back at all from doing this. And it’ll probably help a whole other, unseen community. And I want to help people.

What particular issue do you feel like you’re addressing?

I’m focusing more on Generation Z. As a generation, we are basically just coupled with social media and that’s it. But in terms of contribution that defines who we are, there’s not really a whole bunch of that. So I wanted to expound more on that and just work on that.

There’s been so much focus in national media on Atlanta recently. How do you see your project fitting in with that?

I feel like it would probably go seamlessly with it only because with this generation, we are people who have different interests, either in politics or government or news and culture. So I feel like it would be easier to at least have a younger contribution to what would happen on a national or worldwide scale. 

How The Narwhal uses mini campaigns to fund their journalism

The ask to readers was an aside. The Narwhal’s editor-in-chief Emma Gilchrist added a postscript to an email newsletter inviting readers to pitch in to help cover a $643.51 bill from the Alberta government for a freedom of information request. That single request brought in $5,000 and empowered the indie media outlet to create an entire fund to cover the cost of future freedom of information requests.

Fundraising in a way that’s responsive to relatable moments is what’s called a mini campaign. By breaking your internal fundraising goals down into smaller goals that make sense to your audience, raising money to fund your work becomes easier and helps you build relationships with readers.

Since co-founders Gilchrist and Carol Linnitt launched The Narwhal, a non-profit, reader-funded online magazine that publishes in-depth and investigative journalism about people and the environment out of Victoria B.C., three years ago, they’ve tripled their audience and now have more than 2,500 members who contribute roughly $400,000 per year.

“Fundraising is all about the reader being the hero of the story,” says Gilchrist. “While you may have some lofty internal goal to get X-many new members by Y date, I think it’s much more effective to come up with what you could call mini campaigns throughout the year to appeal to your readers to become members or make donations to support a specific, tangible goal.”

In 2019, the team fundraised to send a reporter to Newfoundland to cover the public inquiry into the Muskrat Falls hydro dam, which brought in about $8,000, Gilchrist says.

In another campaign, The Narwhal made an appeal to send a photographer on a rafting mission into a remote location to cover the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine.

They’ve even asked readers to help hire a new editor.

“I actually think this is the easiest way to do fundraising,” explains Gilchrist. “You’re basically looking for moments in time when you have a compelling reason to ask people to support your work.”

Seize the moment

Key to a successful mini campaign is learning to recognize good moments as they arise. “We’re basically thinking about it all of the time,” Gilchrist says. “A little light needs to go on in your brain and realize, ‘this is a specific, tangible, ambitious assignment and I need to go ask my audience to support this.’ ”

That means they don’t really have a set fundraising calendar. “I’ve worked for nonprofits in the past where we did have a really strict fundraising calendar and you would have to contort yourself to come up with an appeal because it was the time that you send out an appeal,” she says. “We try to let it be a little bit more organic than that.”

Some campaigns may be more complex and carefully planned, but other times, it can be as simple as a “p.s.” in a newsletter.

In recent years, they’ve held between five and seven mini campaigns per year — a mix of member and donation appeals.

Work in tandem with your reader

By linking your fundraising to tangible milestones, you’re inviting readers to be a part of the work and celebrate with you.

When The Narwhal landed eight nominations for Digital Publishing Awards last year, they took the opportunity to thank their readers and invite those that aren’t already members to join.

“I think people get excited by what we’re able to accomplish thanks to them and then they want to be part of it,” Gilchrist explains.

She also says reporting back to the reader to show the impact of their support is the best part of the process.

“How cool is that for people, who gave $25 to $50, that they got to make this big freedom of information investigation possible, or they got to make this really ambitious photo essay possible? It really is the most virtuous circle.”

Just ask

For some journalist-entrepreneurs, campaigns can feel overwhelming. And for many, that stems from a hangup about asking people for money.

Asking gets easier when you remind yourself that you exist to serve the public, Gilchrist explains.

“I’ve really come around to this thinking after fundraising for ten years, that you are giving people a gift by giving them a way to make an impact on the world. People are looking for ways to take action and to do something and to have an impact.”

“If asking people for money means that you can send in a freedom of information request that’s going to shine a light on something that’s in the public interest, it behooves you to ask people for the money.”

In the news

And one more thing

An important alert:

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