Meet the new participants in the Indie News Challenge

This is a big week for Indiegraf: we’re announcing the members of our second cohort of the Indie News Challenge.

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

From political reporting in Newfoundland and Labrador, to education reporting in British Columbia, to investigative journalism in Saskatchewan, this cohort of INC represents a diverse group of journalists from across Canada.

What is the Indie News Challenge?   

Over nine weeks starting in August, 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 develop an idea into a clear plan with early traction that they can present to funders.  

The first cohort of INC accomplished so much. Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson expanded Peterborough Currents from 20 to nearly 2,000 email subscribers. Brandi Schier launched a reader-support campaign that saved Sun Peaks Independent News after advertising revenues collapsed due to COVID-19. We developed and launched IndigiNews Okanagan through this process, which is now expanding to Vancouver Island. Hannah Sung created her fast-growing newsletter At The End Of The Day. Melissa Villeneuve launched Lethbridge’s first independent news outlet, Spark YQL. And Martin Lukacs developed a new project yet to launch with an incredibly exciting and diverse team.

The application and selection process  

In total, 52 people applied for the second cohort of INC. That group was then whittled down to 49, based on our qualifications criteria.  

Of those applicants, 36 per cent self-identified as a person of colour or another group underrepresented by mainstream media. We’re buoyed by that response, but we also recognize that we need to do better. When we announce our next call for INC applications, we’ll be focused on increasing the number of applicants from underrepresented groups.

A panel of six Indiegraf staff members ranked all of the applications. Among the five criteria used for ranking was:

  • If the project identified a genuine reporting gap
  • If the project had a defined audience
  • If the founders had potential to make an impact
  • How likely the project was to succeed
  • And how much impact Indiegraf could have on the project’s success

In the end, 15 projects were selected for the shortlist. Indiegraf’s CEO Erin Millar and CTO Caitlin Havlak met with many of these applicants one-on-one to discuss more specifics of their project to decide on the final projects that would join the second INC cohort.

Introducing the second INC cohort  

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

Of these projects, half are led by people of colour and five are led by people who identify as women. Only two of our cohort members are based in Ontario, and both of their projects represent underrepresented communities that can be found across the country. 

Sask Dispatch, Sask.

The Dispatch is a new investigative outlet spun out of Briarpatch magazine, led by Saima Desai and Sara Birrell. They want to bring more attention to grassroots social justice movements happening on the ground in the province that often go un- or undercovered in local media. 

The Independent, N.L.

Drew Brown is a former PhD candidate in political science who quit to pursue a career in journalism. Since 2019, he has been the St. John’s-based editor-in-chief of The Newfoundland and Labrador Independent, originally founded in 2003. “I’m working to build the Independent into a viable, progressive journalism outlet for 21st-century Newfoundland and Labrador,” he says. “As local legacy outlets continue to shed jobs and cut coverage, thoughtful independent media has never been more necessary.”

Muslim Link, Ont.

Chelby Marie Daigle is the editor-in-chief of, the online information hub for Muslims in Canada. “I am looking to find ways to make more sustainable as an entrepreneurial community journalism project,”  she says.

La Converse, Que.

La Converse is community-powered media serving francophone Canadians, especially underserved communities in Quebec. “We want to change the face of Canadian journalism, we want to establish a media that is based on trust, community, and solutions,” says Lela Savić, founding editor.

Committee Trawler, N.S.

Matt Stickland is a 10-year Navy veteran and recent journalism graduate from the University of King’s College based in Halifax. He’s launching the Committee Trawler to cover Halifax regional council and committee meetings as if they were as important as sports. “We just don’t have enough journalists to go to all the committee meetings to report on how we are being governed day to day,” he says.

Education Matters, B.C.

Tracy Sherlock is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist and journalism instructor who was previously an education reporter at the Vancouver Sun and education columnist at the Vancouver Courier. She started Education Matters to continue writing about education, a subject she believes is crucial to our success as a human race. “Education touches nearly every aspect of our lives and yet mainstream media coverage of education is shrinking,” she says.

National publication for BIPOC (TBA)

This project will develop independent Canadian journalism that centres, elevates and celebrates Black, Indigenous and POC voices and stories. “Reimagining the traditional narrative, we are bringing more than just surface change to journalism,” says its founder, who will be announced in a few short weeks. “Our voices and our stories have the power to change the world.”

Hyper-local site, Red Deer, Alta. (TBA)

This new site will root solid local reporting in Red Deer. “As traditional media has pulled out of the city, social media has filled a vacuum but also fuelled rumours, misinformation and division in the community,” says its founder, who will also be announced in a few short weeks. “It has also allowed newsrooms in Calgary and Edmonton to ‘report’ on Red Deer without actually having reporters on this ground.”

The key takeaways

Because of the phenomenal response to our call for applications, we wanted to share a little bit about what made a successful response.
The projects we selected had a focus and clarity on who they were serving and what gaps they were filling.

Commitment to the project was a key factor — in our first cohort, we found success with people who could dedicate the time to executing their vision.

Cohort dynamics also played a role. While we did have a number of international applicants, in the end, we decided to focus on Canadian publishers since that’s where the cohort had the most synergy.

A crucial criteria was both the potential for impact and the need of the local community for journalism.

In the news


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

And one more thing… 

I’ll be closely following this important project from Resolve Philly, which is giving people a chance to publicly mourn those they’ve lost because of COVID-19.

Tweet thread from Resolve Philly about "The Last Goodbye" project

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