The National Trust for Local News envisions a new future for community news

The National Trust for Local News is on a mission to keep local news in local hands.

The nonprofit made headlines earlier this year after partnering with the Colorado Sun to acquire 24 family-owned community newspapers in the Denver metro area and creating the Colorado Media Conservancy, which is majority-owned and operated by the Colorado Sun.

The Trust works with communities to catalyze capital, business model transformations and new ownership structures to help local and community news organizations thrive.

“We really feel like these are missing ingredients to that rebuilding (of local news) that makes our work different and critical,” said Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and Co-Founder of National Trust for Local News.

While the trust officially incorporated in March of this year, Hansen Shapiro and co-founder Marc Hand originally published a concept paper for the trust in October 2020.

Hansen Shapiro, who is also a senior research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School with a focus on new sustainability practices and public policies to support local news, said there are existing interesting membership models and best practices emerging around audience revenue and engagement. But they identified two pieces missing: socially rich capital and new ownership structures.

“With all the conversation around newspaper deserts and newspapers closing, it became clear to me there were some real issues around who owns news and who has been owning news ⁠— that hasn’t been addressed,” she said.

The National Trust for Local News currently works with two different groups: publishers who need help creating a succession plan, and local partners that care about the future of news in their community but don’t know how to help.

“They want their papers to stay alive,” she said.

As a nonprofit, philanthropy is a crucial part of the trust. Hansen Shapiro said they are supported by national philanthropic organizations as well as funders in the communities the Trust works in. For the Colorado Media Conservancy, she explained that a group of both local and national funders made the acquisition possible.

“In that role, it’s really philanthropic organizations…helping unlock new forms of support for preserving and transforming local news,” she said.

The biggest challenge for the Trust is recognizing where the opportunities are, and what they need to pass on. Publications with collapsed business models who haven’t invested in new technology or growing their audience or new products would take more resources, time and investment, Hansen Shapiro said.

Her biggest piece of advice for publishers is to determine what value they provide. “What do people need that you provide, or could provide?” she asks. Publishers also need to identify who the biggest stakeholders and supporters are in the community.

“All those relationships are critical for long term sustainability,” she said. “The biggest piece is to start building those relationships in any way you can.”

In 2022, The National Trust for Local News will be expanding their work in five states. Hansen Shapiro wants to include stakeholders at the beginning of the process to make it easier to put structure and funding into place.

“We’re just trying to understand what this model looks like so we can scale it cross country,” she said. 

Cold Tea Collective is building a community

Last week, Indiegraf announced the first recipients of our BIPOC Media Growth Program. Today, we’re getting to know one of them a little better. Natasha Jung is the founder, executive producer and editor-in-chief of Cold Tea Collective, a new media platform, sharing the real stories, perspectives, and experiences of North American Asian millennials. She spoke to Rachel Chen about her plans for Cold Tea Collective and working with Indiegraf.

Rachel Chen: We’re at an interesting time where we’re kind of re-examining what it means to be Asian American or Canadian. What role do you see Cold Tea Collective having in that?

Natasha Jung: At Cold Tea Collective we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing for about five years now. I think a lot of what we were talking about in our content over the last few years has been very focused on Asian American, Asian Canadian identity. But now, we’re very deliberately fighting against hate. 

Our approach has always been not to sensationalize or traumatize our community or audience by only reporting negative news. We want to continue to uplift and amplify the voices of Asian diaspora through our content. We want to be able to provide content that is critical, but also provide solutions for people. We want to be able to provide a platform for people to take control of their own narrative.

RC: What kind of growth do you want to see Cold Tea Collective have? 

NJ: To better understand our audience and give them the content or the news products that they want in a meaningful way is what I’m really looking forward to in terms of our growth. I also want us to be able to be financially sustainable. 

We are working with volunteers, who are working with us out of the kindness of their hearts, or have this burning fire within them to tell their stories. 

I want to be able to make it sustainable to be an Asian creative. I want it to be sustainable for us to be a platform, a place where our audience can find stories that resonate with their experiences and will help them learn about other folks’ experiences as well.

RC: Why did Cold Tea Collective decide to work with Indiegraf? 

NJ: We had been approached previously to consider other options for growth, such as joining a collective of other publishers where we would have had to have been acquired. I was not personally ready to give up ownership of Cold Tea Collective, especially at a very exciting time for our publication. Taking a look at Indiegraf’s options and seeing the great work that Indiegraf has done with other publishers, we thought it would be a great opportunity to work with you, especially as part of the BIPOC publishers program.

RC: Why was it so important to you to remain independent?

NJ: I just feel like we haven’t reached our full potential yet in terms of what we’re going to be able to do as a publication. In order to be able to grow and fulfill that vision, I wanted to ensure that I didn’t have to submit to the interests of a controlling group that didn’t necessarily have our best interests at heart, or our community’s best interests at heart. The space that we’re in right now, especially for BIPOC independent media publishers is very, very new in that sense. There’s a lot more opportunities that I feel that we can tap into, to grow and to serve our audience. 

RC: What do you see as the next steps for Cold Tea Collective?

NJ: I want to elevate the stories that we tell by telling them in different formats. I’m trying to coach some of our other team members to do more podcast content, more video content, to work on some really cool partnerships. From a business-side standpoint, I want to be able to operationalize our processes and the work that we do so that we aren’t just a volunteer-driven organization. We want to be financially sustainable, and, hopefully, give back more to the community as well.

RC: When you say give back to the community, what does that look like for you?

NJ: I would like us to be a meaningful and helpful source for Asian Americans and Asian Canadians to feel more connected to each other and our stories.

Ultimately, it’s the sense of community and knowing that they are not alone. As unique and different and nuanced and intersectional all of our experiences can be, there are some underlying things that do connect us all. I want people to be able to find that in our content.

Ten outlets accepted to the BIPOC Media Growth Program

Indiegraf is proud to announce the 10 outlets accepted to the BIPOC Media Growth Program.

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

The recipients are:

“Seeing the great work that Indiegraf has done with other publishers, we thought it would be a great opportunity to work together, especially as part of the BIPOC publishers program,” says Natasha Jung, the founder, executive producer and editor-in-chief of Cold Tea Collective.

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. Indie Capital will be launching new funding opportunities soon to support founders from across North America. Sign up for Indie Publisher to receive all our program updates.

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.”

In 2022, Indiegraf will announce new rounds of the BIPOC Media Growth Program, the Indie Growth Program and the Indie News Challenge. 

Media contact: H.G. Watson, [email protected]

Designing The Breach

A key part of any indie outlet’s development process is their web presence. This week, we’re diving into the nuts and bolts of design with Kevin Yuen Kit Lo of Loki Design, who designed The Breach’s visual identity. He talked with John Loeppky about what you should be thinking about when choosing a designer and what went into the process at The Breach.

John Loeppky: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience as a designer?

Kevin Yuen Kit Lo: I came into design in the early 2000s, when there was a lot of discourse around the social role of design and questioning its relationship with advertising. That always stuck with me. As I grew in my career, I always maintained a separate practice where I was doing more personal, experimental or much more political work for social movements and things like that. But at the same time, my day jobs were in website design, interactive design and branding at various different studios and agencies. About five or six years ago now, I left that world and really tried to see if I could find a way to do the kind of work that I wanted to do in a sustainable way.

JL: What are the kinds of questions that you’re asking, or the information that you’re trying to get from your client, when it is a small media outlet?

KL: As a designer, I actually start from language — trying to find these core values to use, the mission and the naming, etcetera, in order to then translate that into a visual form. The core value that we identified [for The Breach] was a platform that was adversarial, rigorous and in-depth, critically optimistic and honest, transparent and action-oriented. Once we have those, that gives me a flavour of the way in which we want the design to go. When we’re talking about a notion of rigorousness, we want something that allows for longform content that can be interesting to read because we want to make sure that we’re allowing for that space. I think critical optimism is reflected in the types of colours that we use, and then the action-oriented feel comes from maintaining some of the militancy of the digital collages that are being used to illustrate some of the articles.

We really wanted to see what it was that would define not just the visual identity, but also what we call positioning — the voice of the platform. From there I started working on the visual identity. The logo itself was a starting point — it was quite a literal translation of the idea of a breach. It was a really different colour palette than what is typically seen within those kinds of journalistic organizations.

JL:  Why is a clear design important? 

KL: There’s a few ways we can interpret that word, but I think one of the things is a basic level of accessibility. So, making sure that something is easy to navigate, easy to understand and easy to read. I think, unfortunately, the default typography that we see on the web, a lot of times, is quite difficult to read. 

It’s really about establishing a clear hierarchy and establishing clear content types. That’s question number one, structuring the content in a way that makes sense. Then I think there’s also a real importance in terms of a clarity of purpose so people understand why they are coming to The Breach and what sort of information they’re going to get from there as opposed to going to a different site.

JL: How should small outlets look for a designer and what should they be thinking about when they’re trying to choose one?

KL: Understanding the space within which you’re working and finding a designer that’s aligned to that is super important. I think the most important thing is having that first initial conversation and seeing: are you speaking the same language, and does it feel comfortable? Does it feel practical? Does it feel like this person could be your friend? 

There’s so much in design work that is relational. There’s so much that needs to be a back and forth between the client and the designer to get a good understanding, to find each other in the right place. And, obviously, a level of mutual respect. Then on the level of the visuals and aesthetics, I mean, that’s a much more subjective kind of choice. 

The last thing I would say is to find people that are also engaged in that strategic thinking. So, not just working on the level of ‘Give us the content, and we’ll design it for you,’ but are really trying to get at the heart of what you’re trying to say.

This Q & A has been edited for clarity and length. 

Toronto’s West End Phoenix is proving why you should get to know your neighbours

When the home-delivered West End Phoenix encourages you to “put down your phone, pick up a newspaper,” they mean it.

Since the Toronto community newspaper’s inception in 2017, they’ve had a boots-on-the-ground approach to reader engagement and marketing. Though founder and publisher Dave Bidini, wouldn’t even call it marketing at all.

Eschewing digital advertising, they got their start knocking on doors. Bidini would walk the streets of the neighbourhood, sometimes with a friend and maybe their kid, to hand out fridge magnets. “And we would just talk to people, like, ‘This is what we want to do. This is what we’re thinking of doing. Would you be interested in subscribing?’”

One they confirmed interest, they put up an online landing page and started contacting people to get them to pre-subscribe. Thanks in part to Bidini’s personal network as an artist, author and musician (he’s the guitarist for Rheostatics), they had about 700 to 800 subscribers before they even put out the first issue.

As the non-profit broadsheet approaches its fifth anniversary, and edges closer to its December target of 3,000 subscribers, the newspaper just hired its first Twitter and Instagram manager.

The paper’s dogged commitment to analogue tactics like lawn signs and face-to-face relationships has served them well. Here’s how they do it.

Relationships that pay

Bidini has doubled down on building relationships with patrons and bringing them into the fold of their operations — and it’s paid off.

One example? A donor covers the cost of the paper’s printing. When their managing editor wanted to print lawn signs to promote the paper, that same patron offered to cover the cost of a hundred of them.

Today, Bidini estimates they have about 1,000 bright pink signs declaring “I read the West End Phoenix newspaper” around the neighbourhood. Since they ask new subscribers how they heard about the newspaper, they know it works. “It also plays into the real grassroots nature of our paper,” he says.

Two massive billboards were also paid for by a generous patron during the previous election, Bidini explains. “I don’t really know how effective they were, it was just kind of neat for us to have them up there.”

This July, they tried convenience store ads.

Last year, a patron offered up a year’s rent for an office space, Bidini says, though due to pandemic restrictions they haven’t taken them up on it.

“It’s so beautiful that people want to help,” he says. “We count ourselves among the lucky.”

They’ve even been gifted Bitcoin. As Bidini recounts, a longtime American donor asked if, instead of making a cash donation, they could donate Bitcoin. “And I was like, what’s Bitcoin? So I did a bit of research and I was like, well, that’s interesting. It’s certainly a lot more than we’d ever received.” (Over $70,000 at the time).

Staying in contact

These relationships, and the gifts that flow from them, are supported by regular events. From A Night of Duets to a Telethon subscription drive featuring their in-house band and a host of other performers, arts and culture gatherings are central to their fundraising efforts. Their recent outdoor benefit, NewsAid, sold out in weeks.

Bidini says they’ve hosted about half a dozen fundraisers, mostly pre-pandemic, mostly involving prominent guests.

Not everyone has connections like Bidini. But if there’s one big take-away from this approach, it’s about connection. “You really try to maintain pretty tight relationships with the people that support and help and try to stay in constant contact,” says Bidini.

“I’m always kind of trying to reach out to them and tell them what we’re doing and just involve them as much as possible. So it’s not just a check being written, it’s a conversation. It’s relying on their thoughts and their ideas”

That can look like individual phone calls or emails, but sometimes readers reach out randomly, he says.

“It’s kind of neat to think about patrons and patronage in a kind of a creative way,” he adds. “That’s part of the fun.”

Indiegraf Media

Indiegraf Media Inc
308 - 877 E Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC

© 2022 Indiegraf Media Inc.