Take a break with Indiegraf’s summer reading list

Today is all about breaks.

This week, in anticipation of summer vacation, we’re taking a break from our regular content to bring you some of the Indiegraf staff’s favourite reads from indie publishers. Whether you read it on the beach or stuck in the office, we hope you enjoy this work from some of our amazing peers.

The Markup consistently knocks ambitious, interactive journalism projects out of the park. This tool, called Split Screen, is my fav. It allows you to compare the Facebook feeds of seemingly opposing psychographic audiences. Like, for example, what Biden and Trump supporters saw on the days leading up to the election. Or what millennials and boomers see in real time. It’s brilliant.

-Amy Van Es, audience strategist

Living through COVID-19 continues to be horrific, but the way we’ve seen communities come together to take care of each other is really moving. Fatima Syed honours those who have passed and talks to real members of the community, highlighting organizations and people watching out for their city — all while holding power to account. 

-Rachel Chen, audience strategist

The news that the remains of 215 children were found at a residential school in Kamloops made headlines worldwide. As a person who has little in common with the victims and the family, it would be difficult to fully understand what they are going through. But Helen Knott’s words, as described to IndigiNews reporter Kelsie Kilawna, reflected how this impacted the community and deeply touched my heart.

-Kay Watanabe, developer

As a former labour reporter, I’m always eager to read more news digging into workplace conditions. Since it launched earlier this year, The Breach has been breaking labour news. I thought this piece about Tim Hortons’ parent company fighting attempts to ensure a living wage for workers was very illuminating. 

-H.G. Watson, marketing manager

Many people wonder what the land back movement really means. Briarpatch’s Sept./Oct. 2020 Land Back issue dives head first into that question. In it, you’ll learn how on-the-ground movements use tools like rent programs, land trusts and permits to assert inherent rights to the land. You’ll learn how Indigenous hunters who identify as women, and sex workers, are fundamental to the movement. You’ll hear how Molly Swain and Chelsea Vowel of the podcast Métis in Space made their land back vision a reality, and lots more. It’s educational, imaginative storytelling at its finest.

-Lauren Kaljur, Indie Publisher contributor

Newfoundland and Labrador is a beautiful province. In 2019, I drove over 1,500 kilometres in five days, traveling from St. John’s to Deer Lake and getting to know the locals in the small towns in between. But there are many untold stories on the island, and this investigative piece by The Independent into an online troll was captivating. For years, an anonymous Twitter account was harassing the citizens of Newfoundland. Then The Independent’s Drew Brown revealed who was behind the mask.

-Shelby Blackley, audience strategist

In the news

We need to complicate the “save local news” mantra


And one more thing…

How the Kansas Reflector is reaching rural communities

When Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith scheduled the newsletter to hit inboxes at 7 a.m., some of his readers balked. By that time, they were already out feeding their livestock. They wanted to read the news with their morning coffee.

Smith listened, and responded by sending the newsletter at 4 a.m., instead. 

As newsrooms across the country are forced to cut budgets, it is often statehouse coverage that suffers. Fewer reporters covering the breadth of decisions being made under the Capitol dome means it is likely the larger urban papers that decide which stories to publish. And those stories may not include the issues affecting people in rural areas, leaving readers unaware of the decisions being made in cities that directly impact their lives in small towns.

Smith had covered Kansas news for nearly two decades when he was furloughed from the Topeka Capital-Journal in 2020. Recognizing an opportunity, he partnered with States Newsroom, a non-profit that supports statehouse news in regions that are underrepresented due to the cost-driven lack of on-the-ground reporting. Together, they launched Kansas Reflector. Smith solidified the team by recruiting fellow prize-winning journalists he’d known throughout his career.

“We write stories that affect people’s lives,” said Smith. His goal from the outset was to reach underserved populations. Kansas Reflector has no paywall for its online news and is available via all social media outlets. When the Reflector was launched, Smith sent news releases to small town papers without statehouse coverage and let them know they could reprint Reflector stories free of charge. 

“They fill a void in state coverage and provide quality content. We’ve used them since they began publishing,” said Dale Hogg, editor of the Great Bend Tribune.

How does a non-profit publication provide such services for no cost? Though funds used for salaries, office space and computers come from States Newsroom, there remain costs such as travel expenses for reporters; Kansas is a large state. Fees for state and federal information requests are also costly— donors cover those expenses. 

“I didn’t have experience fundraising,” said Smith. “But I had experience building an audience. And I knew if we had an audience, the donations would come.” 

And so far, that seems to be the case. The Reflector has a donation page on their site, and they run a quarterly fund drive via the newsletter. The response has overwhelmed Smith.

“It’s surprising in such a refreshing way,” he said. “People have been generous. Donations may not come in large amounts, but they come in small amounts — sometimes only $5 or $10 — regularly.” Smith believes people support the Reflector because they can read quality news without cost before deciding it is worth the investment. 

Reader loyalty may also be a response to Smith’s ability to listen to his audience. A recent op-ed examined how the importance of reputation in small communities can affect the mental wellbeing of ranchers and farmers. It’s a story that reaches to the heart of rural America, where no decisions go unnoticed by neighbouring landowners. Another story covered private property rights versus the designation of regions of Kansas to National Heritage Areas. 

Not all Reflector articles focus directly on rural communities. As a news publication, they cover issues impacting the entire state: cities and small towns alike.

“We are constantly thinking about the volume of stories we produce, who and what we are writing about, and geographic diversity,” said Smith. “Aside from producing compelling stories of public interest, that is the best way to grow our audience.”

In the news

Opportunities and education

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

And one more thing…

J-Source has a wonderful story about how IndigiNews is creating resources to help newsrooms better cover Indigenous trauma.

Six lessons from a year of supporting independent local news startups

A year ago, Indiegraf made a big bet on a new model of community news publishing, based on being small, digital, cost-efficient and independently owned. We believed that with support, entrepreneurial journalists could provide valuable news that their local community would pay for.

Today, we know that it wasn’t a bet at all. It was a guarantee.

Since Indiegraf launched in May 2020, we’ve helped 37 news outlets across North America grow their audience and revenue. Collectively, our current publishers are making quality community news accessible to over 25 million people. When we launched early in the pandemic, we had no idea how many independent outlets needed support. It’s now very clear that entrepreneurial journalists are eager to collaborate and fill gaps in community news.

In November 2020, we announced investment backing from New Media Ventures and Marigold Capital. With that capital, we expanded from Canada into the United States with three new exciting publishing partners. And just last month, we announced our BIPOC Media Growth Program and Indie Capital, our new initiative to fund the future of independent media. 

It’s been a year of growth and evolution. Here are six things we learned about the rise of independent community news in our first year:

  1. Writers and journalists are going independent because they want to own their reader relationships directly.

In 2019, Ayesha Barmania was commuting from Peterborough, Ont., to Toronto to work at a large media organization — a 270 km round trip. They wanted to work where they lived, but since the options for doing journalism were so limited in the town of 84,000, Barmania was left with few alternatives.

Barmania started a podcast with their colleague, Will Pearson, on the local community radio station. They did the kind of slow journalism they had always dreamed of doing, digging into municipal stories with nuance and tenacity. And an audience who was desperate for this kind of storytelling grew with them.

Journalists across North America shared Barmania’s commitment to reporting for their own communities and not only in the major metropolitan areas. A recent report commissioned by LION found that over the last five years, there has been a 50 per cent rise in the number of independent media outlets across North America. This growth has sparked a flurry of new organizations to serve these publishers. A number of companies and organizations —  among them Substack, Tiny News Collective, Newpack, Lede, LION Publishers, Google News Initiative and Facebook Journalism Project — are investing in local news and are working to make it easier for publishers to start their own outlet.

For Indiegraf’s part, we’ve been overwhelmed by demand from journalist-entrepreneurs around the world. Over the past year, we’ve heard from more than 500 journalists motivated to launch or grow their own independent media through programs like the Indie News Challenge, our flagship accelerator. More than 800 journalist-entrepreneurs have signed up to receive our how-to guides and case studies published by Indie Publisher, our weekly newsletter. 

And we’ve seen our publishers successfully build the reader relationships they want.

Last summer, after completing the Indie News Challenge, Peterborough Currents launched its first fundraising campaign. They raised $20,000 from readers in a few short weeks. Since then, they’ve expanded their journalism and launched a website, secured grants to grow their work and doubled their audience. 

As of just this month, Barmania only has one full-time job: running Peterborough Currents.

  1. Independent media are earning trust from audiences and credibility in the industry.

The Discourse Nanaimo, which Indiegraf helped launch in the fall of 2020, recently surveyed its audience for feedback on its journalism. Here’s just a sample of what they heard from readers:

  • “What you do is informative, factual and balanced. I enjoy it when you are reporting real people and experiences.”
  • “It’s creating a sense of community conversation and animation that is so needed and important right now.”
  • “Thank you so much for the work you are doing. It’s exactly the kind of engaged journalism that Nanaimo has been missing.”

It wasn’t long ago that the title of your media organization had to be scrawled on top of a printed newspaper to be taken seriously. But as more traditional media sources are hollowed out (or in some cases, disappear entirely), independent media are gaining trust with audiences hungry for strong accountability and investigative journalism.

Indiegraf’s partner publishers are dedicated to high quality, in-depth journalism that directly responds to their audiences’ needs — and people are responding to them. Over the past year, Indiegraf publishers have seen 700 per cent growth in subscribers.

Our publishers have won or been nominated for almost every award program offered in Canada, including Canadian Association of Journalism Awards, Atlantic Journalism Awards, the Canadian Online Publishing Awards, Jack Webster Awards, Digital Publishing Awards and RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Awards. 

Our work has also been recognized as amongst the best in Canada. Indiegraf is the inaugural recipient of the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF)-Facebook Journalism Project Digital News Innovation Award

Our publishers aren’t the only ones who have been busy growing. Indiegraf started with just two team members — now we have 14.

But awards aren’t why we do this. It’s feedback like the kind we get at The Discourse Nanaimo that keeps our team and partners motivated. 

  1. Email newsletters are finding success providing community news directly to audiences.

The IndigiNews weekly newsletter was established in November 2020. It started with a subscriber list of 726 readers. The IndigiNews team, supported by Indiegraf’s audience strategists, worked on a marketing campaign that included Facebook ads, as well advertising on the IndigiNews website. As of June 2021, it has a subscriber list of  9,161 readers. 

“The thing about newsletters is that you have control over the relationship with your audience,” Dan Oshinsky, founder of Inbox Collective, told Wired UK last year. The number of users on both Substack and Mailchimp have risen dramatically since the pandemic started. 

Newsletters are an essential part of the Indiegraf approach to reaching audiences. Together, we’ve grown our audiences to more than 120,000 subscribers. 

The massive growth of IndigiNews’ newsletter helped the outlet when it needed it the most. Earlier this month, IndigiNews reporters and other journalists were denied full access to report on the ongoing police action against old growth logging protests in Pacheedaht and Ditidaht territories on Vancouver Island, known as the “Fairy Creek Blockades.” 

They asked their readers to help them challenge the RCMP injunction to prevent further harassment and obstruction of their reporters’ ability to do their jobs. 

In less than two weeks, IndigiNews raised $17,000. “This kind of rapid and responsive fundraising is only possible with a growing newsletter list and of course, stellar journalism,” says Trevor Jang, one of Indiegraf’s audience strategists.

  1. People are willing to pay for community news that provides real value.

If you want proof that people are willing to financially support independent news, look no further than The Breach. This new outlet launched a membership campaign just a few months ago on the promise that it would provide Canadians with journalism that was adversarial, action-oriented and critically optimistic. The response was massive. In just 12 days, before they had even published a single story, The Breach raised over $100,000.

You can find success stories like The Breach’s worldwide. According to the Reuters Institute 2020 Digital News Report, 2020 brought a big uptick in people paying for online news: 13 per cent of people in Canada now pay for online news, up from nine per cent from last year. The United States also saw a big jump — now 20 per cent of people pay for online news, up from 16 per cent. Annually, Americans spend $7.2 billion on digital news products. 

“The number one path for financial sustainability is a simple one: asking people to pay for their news,” states a 2019 report by the Medill News Leaders Project. “A user revenue model means turning content consumers into loyal customers, providing stability in a frighteningly fluid industry.”

For 53 per cent of our publishers, audience members are the largest source of revenue. That strong base of reader support means these journalists can focus on creating the highest quality journalism for their audiences rather than chase clicks. Indiegraf is currently building new products to drive other aligned revenue sources, like newsletter advertising, licensing revenue and sponsorships. But our publishers’ most important customers will always remain their readers.

When The Breach hit its goal so quickly, it went back to its supporters and asked: if we keep fundraising, what kind of journalism do you want to see? The answer was clear — they wanted more investigations, podcasts and videos, and a focus on marginalized communities. So The Breach team went back and set a new goal: $150,000. 

In just a few weeks, they raised more than $190,000. 

  1. Persistent diversity and inclusion shortcomings in the news industry are driving BIPOC journalists to media entrepreneurship.

As a Black and queer journalist, Matthew DiMera dealt with racism and homophobia in newsrooms across Canada, experiencing everything from endless micro-aggressions to blatant discrimination. He grew tired of fighting for change within other media organizations. He was ready to launch a platform of his own

DiMera’s experience is, sadly, not unusual. That’s why many journalists of colour have decided that it is time to build better media outlets. 

So far, independent news has lagged behind as much as mainstream media. According to the Oasis Report, only 25 per cent of journalists employed by independent media outlets identify as people of colour, on par with the lack of diversity in established newsrooms and way behind the 40 per cent of the general workforce that identify as a person of colour. However, the same survey found that racially and ethnically diverse organizations’ median revenue was 1.5 times higher than the baseline.

Indiegraf sees the rise of independent community news as an opportunity to change not only the stories told and communities served by the news industry, but also change media ownership to be more representative.

Over the last year, 67 per cent of the publishers we served are owned or led by Black, Indigenous or people of colour, and 60 per cent are focused on primarily underserved audiences. A partnership between the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada and Indiegraf, funded by Facebook, supports news services providing coverage to Bengali, Greek, Iranian, Chinese, Sri Lankan and Tamil communities in Canada. And our BIPOC Media Growth Program will provide $25,000 grants to six Canadian media projects owned or led by BIPOC journalists.

“This last year has been really hard for everyone,” Emilee Gilpin, the managing editor of IndigiNews, recently told Canadaland. “It’s really necessary to have relationships and spaces that are safe and you feel like you can be honest, and what sets us apart is that everybody just cares, that everyone has a big heart.”

DiMera is currently in the early stages of launching a new outlet called The Resolve. Within the first few weeks, he signed up 2,000 newsletter subscribers and added 2,000 new Instagram followers

“We added a lot of new followers, but the real inspiration was all of the people who saw our social media campaign and then wrote to tell us how excited they are to support a project like The Resolve and how desperately Canada needs more media that centres our Black, Indigenous and racialized communities,” says DiMera.

  1. A lack of seed stage capital is a barrier to growth.

Indiegraf is removing barriers to entry to news entrepreneurship by providing founders with the technology, training, services and the support they need to grow. Other organizations have emerged to support growth in independent digital news media, too.

But while our first year has shown us there is a wealth of talented journalists who want to launch their own media outlet to fill community news gaps, we have also seen that they need more support to reach sustainability.

Specifically, a lack of access to appropriate seed stage capital prevents many from launching or realizing their full growth potential, especially those from diverse and low-income backgrounds. The majority rely on personal savings and have to take on significant financial risk before their outlet can reach sustainability.

For funders, supporting the startup stage for local news is difficult: not only is the risk high, but the relatively small funding needed (compared to funding strategies of large non-profits like The 19th, for example) makes the transaction cost high. There’s also a sufficiency problem; while there are more grants for local news than ever before, available grant funding isn’t enough to respond to the crisis of 2,000+ local news deserts across North America.

That’s why Indiegraf developed Indie Capital, our initiative that provides grants and flexible financing to promising independent news outlets to help fund their growth. Since we established the program, Indie Capital has invested in Bushwick Daily, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Peterborough Currents, in Peterborough, Ont. We will soon provide $150,000 in new grants to BIPOC-owned or led media in Canada, via the BIPOC Media Growth Program.

In our second year, we’ll be expanding these programs and developing new initiatives designed to enable anyone with talent and passion, no matter their income or who they know, to participate in media entrepreneurship. Our goal is to empower our decentralized network of community news outlets to be, together, the largest network providing original community news in the world.

Our reason for doing this is much the same as it was when we first started: because we believe that right now, obscured by headlines about a local news apocalypse, there is a generational opportunity to transform the news industry and serve our communities better.

Syilx journalist shares how she’ll report on Kamloops Indian Residential School

This week’s Indie Publisher contains content about residential schools that may be triggering for some. Our partner IndigiNews is committed to trauma-informed ethical reporting, which involves taking time and care, self-location, transparency and safety care plans for those who come forward with stories to share.

Last Thursday, I was driving home from my little cousin’s wake, who tragically passed much too soon. When I got home I opened my phone and saw the news: “215 Bodies Found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS),” read multiple headlines.

My heart sank. My first instinct was complete anger.

Immediately, I went on social media, to try and inform other journalists how to report on the tragedy.

I was angry at how this news was splayed across so many outlets, without due care or attention to how it would impact my family. News like this needs careful specific treatment to protect the integrity of the people.

I have spent the past 15 years working in trauma-informed community-based spaces, where I’ve advocated for children and families’ well-being. I knew immediately how news like this should have been delivered. 

I thought about the impact this news was going to have on my family who survived the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and the impact on my relations and kin across the country. 

‘I speak as a mother‘

I was raised to speak from my heart, and to locate myself in relation to an issue I’m speaking to. Because this tragedy directly impacts my family, I needed to declare who I was immediately, so that I could know how to go forward with my voice. 

I declared Friday morning that I speak as a mother. 

In Syilx ways, I am stepping forward as a caretaker of relationships and kinships. I am speaking as someone who is inherently protective of my relations in their time of grief — I knew instantly that this would be my role throughout this time. 

Any reporting that follows this story, I situate myself as a mother.

I am writing on behalf of all the mothers whose voices were taken away. I write for the Elders who as children never got to know their mother’s loving embrace, and I write for the children today. 

We will pour our love into our children, and we will protect their integrity at all costs. 

This means my writing practices will be centered around love, healing, integrity and uplifting the good, while following the highest quality of journalistic standards.

I have always declared I am a Syilx and Secwépemc woman, before I am anything else. I am making it known that this issue has impacted my family gravely. We have been triggered. We, the Syilx and Secwépemc, and nations beyond, have family there in the ground, and in all of my writing, I write in honour of the 215 children whose lives were taken, and those who didn’t make the count. 

It is time for the media to step up and raise the ethical standards. It’s time for newsrooms to make space for those who see and represent Indigenous Peoples as the diverse, beautiful, powerful, strong human beings we are, and to stop reducing people to bodies to be further exploited. 

Every morning as I wake, I will smudge and pray, and do my best to write in a way that doesn’t cause more harm. I situate myself as a mother, a Syilx and Secwépemc journalist who pledges to protect the people, as a mother does.

A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866 925-4419.

Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society aims to provide a “non-judgmental approach to listening and problem solving.” The crisis line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 1-800-588-8717 or go to kuu-uscrisisline.com. KUU-US means “people” in Nuu-chah-nulth.

IndigiNews reporters Anna McKenzie and Discourse reporter Jacqueline Ronsen have created a list of seven ways non-Indigenous people can support Indigenous people, right now.

If you want to support independent Indigenous journalism, contribute to IndigiNews’ current campaign to back their reporting of Fairy Creek, where managing editor Emilee Gilpin is covering old growth logging demonstrations.

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