Indiegraf expands into United States with three new publishing partners

VANCOUVER — Indiegraf, a fast-growing platform for independent community news publishers, announces the first communities in its U.S. expansion: Brooklyn, Baltimore and Shasta County. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Bushwick Daily, Bloc by Block News and Shasta Scout to Indiegraf,” said Erin Millar, CEO and co-founder of Indiegraf. “These publishers represent the kind of independent media we believe can play a big part in solving the local news crisis: genuinely engaged with their communities in a bottom-up way and serving both the civic news and cultural needs of their readers.”

Indie Capital investment in Bushwick Daily marks Indiegraf’s first U.S. funding deal

Established in 2010, Bushwick Daily was founded by Katarina Kocses to cover the vibrant arts and cultural life in north Brooklyn. When Alec Meeker took over in 2018, he began to expand the focus to community politics and diversify its contributor base. 

“Bushwick Daily is partnering up with Indiegraf to expand our grassroots local reporting and continue our mission of elevating the voices and stories that have been traditionally silenced and suppressed,” said Meeker. 

According to internal Indiegraf research, New York State is one of the most local news poor regions in the United States per capita. Despite being home to some of the largest media brands in the world, many communities — especially Latinx and Black neighbourhoods — are severely underserved by local media. People who live in communities without access to quality local news are less likely to vote, run for office or even trust their neighbours.

Bushwick Daily is the first investment Indiegraf has made in an American publisher via its new program Indie Capital. “Bushwick Daily has a decade-long history of success. With extra resources from Indiegraf, we aim not only to sustainably grow Bushwick Daily, but replicate its model in other neighbourhoods experiencing local news poverty in New York,” said Millar.

Cooperative media startup in Baltimore aims to engage underserved communities in local news

The seeds of Bloc by Block News were sown in 2012, following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Co-founder Kevon Paynter was shocked by the lack of Black voices in news conversations. “What was even more shocking was how few Black voices were on cable news. It was the first time I noticed,” Paynter said. “News happens without us, whether we’re talking about class and economic status, geography, diversability, sexual orientation, gender and generational differences — every day people do not equitably shape the narrative.” 

He considered many different business forms for Bloc By Block News, and he settled on it being a media cooperative, owned by news readers and news publications. “The idea of sharing ownership and making people feel like they owned the news is much more attractive, motivating and impactful,” Paynter told Co-operatives UK.

In 2020, he decided to establish a cooperative media outlet for local people in Baltimore who struggle to navigate and discover local news. When Paynter mapped the local news ecosystem in Maryland, he found that while the state is home to many newsrooms, very few serve Black neighbourhoods and communities.

Bloc by Block now offers a one-stop-shop newsletter and has plans to launch a mobile app for trustworthy neighbourhood, city and state news and information. Ahead of launching the app, the newsletter is helping Marylanders find trustworthy information on local topics that matter to them most. “We’re making sure we have something that people actually want, growing our audience and momentum,” Paynter said. 

“We believe independent media will be the largest source of local news content, overtaking centrally-owned newspaper chains, in the next decade,” said Millar. “By supporting a cooperative like Bloc By Block, we want to contribute to developing new ownership models that place control over local news in local hands.”

Founded by a solo-entrepreneur, Shasta Scout expands its tech and digital marketing team via Indiegraf

Shasta Scout serves the newspoor rural region of Shasta County in northern California. Shallow media coverage of complex issues that impact the region, such as the presence of politically active far-right militant groups and the involvement of a local megachurch in both municipal government and political lobbying, led Annelise Pierce, Scout’s founder, to launch a non-profit civic news organization.

“We believe a democratic community requires access to just and equitable news,” Pierce said. “We’re committed to diversity in the stories we cover and in the perspectives we use to tell those stories.”

Pierce’s market research found that there is a strong desire in Shasta County for media that digs deeper and operates independently of the strong social and political connections within the community. But being able to cover that news, she said, takes more than just good journalism. 

“For hyperlocal news media groups, financial sustainability is imperative, but elusive,” Pierce said. “That’s because many of the same problems that hound media groups nationwide are also present for media startups, particularly challenges around accessing sufficient revenue sources.”

“Shasta Scout has already demonstrated the need for in-depth journalism in its community,” said Millar. “By providing technology, digital marketing support and a community of other journalist-entrepreneurs to offer tools and best practices, we hope Annelise Pierce can move forward with the confidence that there is a team behind her committed to her success.”

Indiegraf to grow to over 50 community news outlets by the end of 2021

Indiegraf helps journalist-entrepreneurs launch and grow digital news outlets, driving revenue from readers and partners to power homegrown journalism. Since Indiegraf launched in spring 2020, it has grown quickly and supported 34 community news publishers across North America. Indiegraf is on track to add 20 more community news outlets to its network by the end of 2021, and accelerate its growth in 2022.

In the coming months, Indie Capital will roll out other funding opportunities for community news publishers across North America that are committed to providing equitable coverage in communities experiencing news poverty. If you’d like to express your interest in future opportunities, sign up for email updates here.

If you are a funder interested in learning more about Indie Capital, contact Indiegraf here.

For media inquiries contact: H.G. Watson, [email protected]

New media outlet The Breach shakes up Canadian journalism

CANADA — Canadian pension funds invested nearly $1 billion in a water privatization scheme led by Brazil’s right-wing President Bolsonaro. The Natural Resources Department is doing the bidding of the oil industry. Despite promises to change and huge profits, Tim Horton’s is still short-changing its workers.

These are the kinds of headlines to be expected from The Breach, a new member-funded, not-for-profit media outlet that has launched this week with some groundbreaking investigations. 

The Breach’s first crowdfunding campaign was a runaway success, raising $100,000 in just 10 days through small donations from more than 700 founding members. That number has since risen to $180,000, from almost 1400 members, making the campaign the most successful in Canada media in recent years.

These founding members are making it possible for The Breach to pursue investigations and video journalism about the bold transformations Canadian society needs to create a liveable future.

The Breach’s team includes Mi’kmaw writer and lawyer Pamela Palmater, journalist and poet El Jones, author and journalist Linda McQuaig, and journalist and scholar Azeezah Kanji, among others.

“We’re seeing an appetite for independent journalism that reflects the desire to imagine and build an economy and society that transcends systemic racism, colonialism, and climate breakdown,” said Amy Miller, filmmaker and senior video producer with The Breach.

The Breach will also give voice to bold ideas in line with a viable future. In the coming days, it will feature distinctive voices articulating proposals like a Green New Deal, the end of policing, Land Back, and public ownership of telecommunications.

It is part of the Indiegraf network, a collaboration of independent news outlets filling community news gaps. “The overwhelming response to The Breach’s founding membership campaign demonstrates that Canadians are hungry for quality journalism they can trust,” says Erin Millar, co-founder and CEO of Indiegraf. “The Breach’s success is further evidence of the sea change happening in Canadian media. As traditional models struggle, independent news is seeing tremendous growth across the country.” The Indiegraf network launched in 2020 with seven initial publishing partners and has since grown to 34 publishers across North America.

“The Canadian media landscape will benefit from a journalistic organization that rigorously tackles the crises of inequality, racism and climate,” said journalist and managing editor Martin Lukacs. 

The Breach has already won endorsements from supporters including scientist David Suzuki and author Naomi Klein. “We need an outlet, a source of information, that is credible, that is progressive, and that we can believe in,” says Suzuki.

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Media contact:

Martin Lukacs, Managing Editor

[email protected]

514-550-8706

How to gain 1,000 new Instagram followers in two weeks on a small budget

We all know social media is an important part of any marketing strategy. But how do you decide which platform to focus on in the early stages of growth? How the heck do you grow your following? And most importantly, how do you ensure your new followers are actually engaged and loving your content?

The Resolve is a new independent Canadian journalism company that recently faced these questions. Founded by Black-Queer journalist Matthew DiMera, The Resolve aims to produce journalism that centres, elevates and celebrates Black, Indigenous and racialized voices across Canada.

In anticipation of The Resolve’s launch, we at Indiegraf were tasked with finding and building an audience of potential readers on social media. We decided to focus our limited budget on Instagram. In less than two weeks, we grew our audience on that platform by 1,000 new hyper-engaged followers.

Step 1: Test, test, test

We had a hunch Instagram was going to be our best bet. We had run Facebook Lead Ads before and reached an audience of mostly readers 45 and up. We wanted to reach younger readers, and felt Instagram could deliver that for us.

However, we still had to test that assumption. So we ran a week-long Facebook Likes campaign, a Twitter Follower campaign and a custom hack for Instagram — that I will explain in a moment — to see which platform responded the best.

In the backend of Facebook and Twitter Ads Manager, the metric we watch to measure success is called cost-per-result (CPR). This is also sometimes referred to in marketing lingo as cost-per-acquisition (CPA) or return on ad spend (ROAS). In this case, they all mean the same thing: how much it costs us in advertising dollars to acquire a new page like or follower.

In less than two weeks, the results were as follows:

  • Twitter: $6.80 per page follower (very poor)
  • Facebook: $1.57 per page like (good)
  • Instagram: $0.33 per page follower (amazing)

Our assumption was proven right: Instagram provided the most cost-efficient result for our ad spend. We set each campaign at $50 per day, but you can go as little as $5 a day. Just know the more you spend, the better data you’ll have to make decisions more quickly.

Once we knew Instagram was the way to go, we focused our efforts (and budget) on growing that platform.

Step 2: Create a “Lookalike Audience” based on current followers

There is a caveat to this hack: You must have some followers to begin with. Unfortunately, this advertising strategy won’t work if you’re starting from scratch. The Resolve had 371 followers already from organic (unpaid) marketing efforts and good ol’ fashioned word-of-mouth. That was all we needed.

We created what’s called a “Lookalike Audience” of The Resolve’s current followers. This is the Facebook advertising algorithm working its robot magic to find you new followers that are similar to your current audience based on attributes like age, gender, location and most importantly — interests.

Lookalike audiences give you the option to pick a percentage. That means, how “alike” do you want the audience to be? The lower the percentage, the more alike the audience will be, but the fewer people you’ll reach. The higher the percentage, the less alike but the more people you’ll reach.

We created a one per cent lookalike. We didn’t just want to find new followers, we wanted to find new fans. We wanted people who would really resonate with what The Resolve is about. This worked for us because The Resolve is a national news product which means we had a whole country to target with our ads. If your market is smaller, you may want to try a two per cent lookalike.

Once we created this lookalike, we set it as our audience in Facebook Ads Manager for the campaign.

Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to create a lookalike audience from your Instagram following. You have to create a Custom Audience first, which is just the current Instagram following itself, then you create a Lookalike Audience based on that Custom Audience.

Step 3: In Facebook Ads Manager, create a traffic campaign and choose your objective as “link clicks.”

To understand this section, you’ll need a basic understanding of the Facebook ad structure (Campaign → Ad Set → Ad). For an explainer on these terms, click here.

Here’s where the hack part comes in. Facebook doesn’t allow you to run a “Instagram Followers” campaign in the same easy and basic way that you can run a “Facebook Page Likes” campaign.

Instead, you need to run a traffic campaign. Choose your objective as link clicks. At the ad level, insert the url of your Instagram page into the ad. This way, when someone clicks on your ad, they will be taken right to your profile.

In your ad set, you should also click “manual placement” instead of the normally recommended “automatic placement.” De-select all Facebook ad placements so that your ads only show up on Instagram feeds, stories and Explore page.

I also recommend choosing budget optimization at the campaign level. This way, Facebook will automatically direct your budget to the ads that are performing the best. Set a daily budget with an amount that is feasible for you. We did $50 a day and raised it to $100 a day after the initial two weeks.

Step 4: Run multiple ads at once to give Facebook options for budget optimization. 

At the peak of our campaign, we had six ads running. Four of them were videos, one was a static image and one was a slideshow of images.

It’s best practice to have at least three ads running with different creative types. As long as you have your campaign set to budget optimization, Facebook will do the hard work of choosing which ads to spend more on for you.

For video ads, we repurposed the videos that we created to post on The Resolve’s IGTV. The size of an Instagram Feed ad and Instagram Explore ad is 1080 x 1080 pixels. The Instagram story ad size is 1080 x 1920 pixels. We created both dimension variations for all of our video ads.

We found that one video was consistently performing better than any other, so we shut down most of the other ads. But we always kept a minimum of three ads running at a time.

Even when one ad is outshining the rest, it’s still best to give the algorithm options. There is rarely any rhyme or reason for one creative outperforming another and it is impossible to predict. That is why you should always have multiple ads running with different creative types.

Step 5: Create fresh kickass content while your ads are running (daily if possible).

You can spend all the money you want on advertising, but ultimately fresh, organic content still rules the internet. While our ads were running, we were posting daily original videos that we created using this fancy tool. You can take a look at The Resolve’s IGTV to see all the content we were posting during this time (and also repurposed as our ads).

In total, we posted eight videos during the two-week period, ranging in length from one minute (the minimum length required on Instagram) up to five minutes. You may not have the capacity to generate content at this volume, but the point is that people like to follow pages that are posting interesting and relevant content on a regular basis.

The fresh content was key to this advertising strategy. The engagement numbers on the organic videos (videos that we didn’t spend any money on) let us know that our new audience was loving our content. We consistently got between 400-600 views on our videos from an audience with less than 2,000 followers.

Summary

After two weeks, we spent $374.80 on our Instagram ads and generated 1,013 followers for a CPR of $0.33 per follower.

The factors that contributed to the success of this campaign were:

  • Fresh content that was relevant and engaging to the target audience
  • 371 followers to start that we were able to use to create an effective one per cent Lookalike Audience
  • $1,000 budget to test different platforms before scaling our spend on Instagram (we’re still spending!) 
  • A national product meant we had a large geographic market to target 

The next step for The Resolve will be to drive their new Instagram followers to their email newsletter, to eventually prime them to become financial supporters — but that is a case study for another day. 


Here’s how to navigate being at the centre of a fundraising campaign

Unless you’re a broadcast journalist, I’m going to guess you likely didn’t get into journalism with the intention of being the face of a fundraising campaign or personally tied to your news outlet’s story. But for many journalist-entrepreneurs seeking to build trust with the communities they serve, it’s become an unexpected and necessary part of the job. If you’re still working through this, you’re not alone. We caught up with two leaders in the BIPOC-led independent media space to find out how they’ve thought through being the face of a campaign, and what they’ve learned along the way.

Step out of your comfort zone

Matthew DiMera is founder and publisher of the BIPOC-centered news outlet, The Resolve. Like many journalists, DiMera says he’s someone who prefers to be behind the camera, not in front of it. “It’s not the reason I got into journalism. The opposite is actually the case,” he says.

But that hasn’t held DiMera back from tying his professional experiences a Black and queer editor to The Resolve’s mission and communicating with his audience directly through social media videos in the lead up to the outlet’s launch.

“It’s really needed to do the kind of journalism that I’m interested in doing, and that a lot of people are sort of coming to understand the value of, which is community-first and really about rebuilding trust and relationships with the communities that you’re covering,” says DiMera. “And you can’t do that as a faceless, nameless board.”

Earn trust

To do journalism differently, in a way that’s not top down but a two-way relationship, means establishing that personal connection, DiMera says.

“Even if the audience is just still consuming and not writing back to you or having a conversation, there’s still a sense of, ‘Oh, OK, I know where this information is coming from.’ ”

This is especially true for communities of colour and other underrepresented groups, for whom the wounds from past media coverage are deeper.

“There’s sort of a questioning of media as an authority… Like, what are the reasons you’ve given me to trust you?” says DiMera. “We’re really sort of undoing the sins of the past.”

“It will take longer to build that trust, and it will be a lot easier to break that trust, if not handled properly,” he continues. “I understand on a personal level the challenge that has to be overcome here.”

The community response to The Resolve has been really good so far, DiMera says. More and more people are reaching out and writing back, which he thinks stems from that personal connection and inviting community members to share their thoughts in response to the newsletter. “That shouldn’t be revolutionary, but I think it is.”

Start from the ground up

Emilee Gilpin is a Michif nomad currently living in W̱SÁNEĆ territories who serves as managing editor of IndigiNews, an independent Indigenous media outlet dedicated to covering the news in a way that allows “stories to be heard, understood and respected,” as the outlet puts it.

“I really think it’s important for people, if you’re working with communities, to make sure that it’s community first,” Gilpin says, pointing to the difference it makes with the IndigiNews reporters who report about their own community and connect these experiences to the campaign.

The challenge and opportunity of independent media, she says, comes from the fact that you’re building something from scratch. “It’s tricky, because it doesn’t happen overnight. It definitely is a process. It’s figuring out how we can shift away from the way that things have been going.”

With so much innovation happening at a fast pace, she says it’s important to keep editorial staff and community members closely involved in building the model and mission.

“If you’re going to be asking people for money, you need to be really clear on what it is you’re asking for, what it is you’re building, and for who and how that’s going to happen.”

Be real

For journalists, transparency is always key, especially in your campaign story, says Gilpin. “People are smart. They’re going to invest in what they want to invest in — they don’t need to kind of have these false narratives.”

As you innovate new funding models, keep in mind that the model is likely just as new to newsreaders, she says. “It’s a fairly new culture of paying for the news, and that not just being provided for you.”

If the mission is clear, and you’re committed to transparency, the ask becomes clearer. “The stories that we go out and get or that come to us are stories that are mostly relationship and community-based. And so people who support that, I think, are willing to invest and want to know what’s going on and want to know what that journey is like,” says Gilpin.

And the more authentic voices, the better. “There really is space for all of us, there’s space for all of our stories, there’s space for people to tell their stories in different ways,” she says, describing a teaching she carries.

“I mean, you can go to a library and read many different genres of books and different kinds of stories, like why can’t you engage with many different forms of journalism?”

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And one more thing… 

The May 20 deadline for the next round of the Indie News Challenge is fast approaching. Learn more here

Applications now open for the BIPOC Media Growth Program, a partnership between the Facebook Journalism Project and Indiegraf

Applications are open for a new Indiegraf grant program aimed at supporting the growth of BIPOC-led news outlets in Canada.

With funding from the Facebook Journalism Project, the BIPOC Media Growth Program will provide $25,000 grants and support from Indiegraf to six Canadian media projects owned or led by BIPOC journalists.

This initial program marks the launch of Indie Capital, Indiegraf’s initiative that provides grants and flexible financing to promising independent news outlets to help fund their growth.

The last year has seen major growth in independent journalists striking out on their own to start news outlets and fill community news gaps. Journalist-entrepreneurs are poised to play a significant role in solving the local news problem, but many struggle to access seed capital and build capacity to fuel their growth. The majority rely on personal savings and have to take on significant financial risk before their audiences and revenues can reach sustainability.

“If the only people who can afford to found independent news outlets are those with the networks and savings to raise capital, the future of news will replicate the same lack of diversity inherent in today’s problems of legacy media,” says Erin Millar, co-founder and CEO of Indiegraf. “This is why we created Indie Capital.”

Indie Capital’s BIPOC Media Growth Program is open to publishers, both in the Indiegraf network and those interested in joining, that can demonstrate audience traction and growth potential. Selected publishers will receive direct funding, subsidized technology, training, consulting and digital marketing services designed to help them grow their brand awareness, audience engagement and revenue over a four month period. Apply here by May 28.

This program is part of a larger investment made by the Facebook Journalism Project to support diverse Canadian media that serve underrepresented communities. Facebook is also funding a partnership between the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada and Indiegraf to support news services providing coverage to Bengali, Greek, Iranian, Chinese, Sri Lankan and Tamil communities in Canada.

“Canadians want to see their diverse experiences reflected in the media they consume, which is why Facebook Canada is committed to helping increase the strength of underrepresented voices,” said Kevin Chan, Global Director and Head of Public Policy for Facebook Canada. “Facebook has been working with Indiegraf since it launched and we’re grateful to their team for partnering with us to share their expertise with BIPOC publishers and help them grow.”

“It is our honor and privilege to be part of Indiegraf and Facebook program in assisting publications,” said Arash Kharabi, the CEO of Iran Star. “Their outstanding program helped us beyond what words can express and will be so crucial to any news company.”

In the coming months, Indie Capital will roll out other funding opportunities for community news publishers across North America that are committed to providing equitable coverage in communities experiencing news poverty. If you’re not eligible for this first program, but you’d like to express your interest in future opportunities, sign up for email updates here.

“The current disruption in community news is a generational opportunity to change who owns and is served by news outlets,” says Millar. “We want Indie Capital to lower the bar to entry so anyone with talent and passion, no matter their family income or who they know, can participate in media entrepreneurship.”

If you are a funder interested in learning more about supporting Indie Capital or Indiegraf publishers, contact us here.

How one media outlet raised funds with a satirical telethon

It’s a Thursday night in late March 2021, but you would be forgiven for mistaking Arthur Newspaper’s online fundraiser as an archived broadcast from 1999.

The video is riddled with nostalgic blasts from the past, from vintage local advertisements to old school public service announcements. The event’s bread and butter is the fictional news stories that satirize real events, delivered by the editors-in-chief of the Trent University student press: Brazil Gaffney-Knox and Nick Taylor. Plus, there’s the sketch comedy videos prepared by reporters, staff and community members.

The three-week-long fundraiser was part of the Peterborough, Ontario-based newspaper’s goal to raise $10,000 by the end of April to support their operations over this coming summer — a plan that includes ambitious reporting projects and maintaining audience engagement throughout the whole year, rather than beginning and ending with the school year.

Scrappy enthusiasm gets others excited

Gaffney-Knox and Taylor knew they wanted to do something fun and entertaining as the capstone on their fundraising push.

“I think, more than anything, this is a testament to trying to build relationships during this time,” Gaffney-Knox says. “What we realized is that people are very ready to be excited about things if you push them and get them excited, and clown around for them.”

The whole idea came together in two weeks, thanks in part to how much the Arthur staff “were really excited by the idea,” Taylor says.

In a whirlwind of preparation, the editors reached out to their staff and invited them to submit sketch comedy videos, to act as callers to the telethon and to help with the production for the broadcast. 

Arthur Newspaper, like many student press publications, has been hit hard by funding insecurity in recent years. Gaffney-Knox says that their work this year has been about building stability into Arthur — which can be a daunting prospect, considering new editors are elected by students every spring. 

Gaffney-Knox and Taylor have also been working on building a membership revenue stream since last year. 

“We had been having ongoing conversations about fundraising and we’d been putting it off as long as we could, in all honesty, because it’s just not the most exciting part of the job for us,” says Taylor.

“We realized we really needed to build a narrative,” says Gaffney-Knox. 

And the narrative they settled on was a satirical take on a small-town television station raising funds to stay on the air. 

As the date of the fundraiser got closer and preparations were being made, the two also had to grapple with their own anxieties: Will anyone watch? Will anyone donate? Will anyone find this funny? 

“Putting your face on the internet is really scary these days,” says Gaffney-Knox. 

And it was community members, Taylor says, who helped them to see that “everyone who’s attending this wants to see us succeed and [they’re] very willing to laugh with us.”

Stephen Stohn was one of the founding editors of Arthur Newspaper and contributed matching funds to this campaign. 

“There are some seriously good journalism projects they can pursue with some additional funding, and I was proud to help raise awareness of that, but equally proud to simply bask in the ridiculousness that was the telethon,” Stohn said in an email.

Ultimately, the event raised $1,490 – almost half of what they raised total during the fundraising campaign.

It was also a good way to blow off steam.

“Because so much of this job has been really serious, whether it’s the journalism that we’re doing, or whether it’s the amount of stress that we put on ourselves to excel and be good bosses, it was so gratifying that we could create something fun for other people to enjoy at a time when that’s really difficult to do.”

“I think what we ended up doing was just doing something very vulnerable and scary. And people responded to it,” says Gaffney-Knox.

You can watch the telethon recording on the Arthur Newspaper Youtube channel, or help them reach their fundraising goal.

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