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In British Columbia, There’s a Good News Story about the News

A digital news ecology is flowering through ‘coopetition’ — as Media Democracy Day will showcase November 18.

By David Beers

Hidden by gloomy tales of the decline of North America’s news media is a success story in southwestern British Columbia.

Here, a cluster of digital outlets have flowered by paying for top notch investigative and solutions-focused reporting. They are forging new business models and training the next wave of journalists.

Taken together, they form a news media ecosystem in which surviving means competing but also collaborating. Yes, each vies to break stories and attract money. But they also sometimes republish each other’s pieces, pool resources or team up.

“Coopetition” is one way to describe this style of ecology.

Who are its creatures? They include: The Tyee founded in 2003 in Vancouver. Megaphone Magazine, Vancouver’s street paper and website founded in 2006. DeSmog Canada, founded in 2013 in Victoria. Discourse Media, founded in 2013 in Vancouver. Hakai Magazine, founded in 2015 in Victoria. TheNational Observer founded in 2015 as an arm of the 2006 Vancouver ObserverThe Global Reporting Centre founded in 2016, a non-profit growing out of the International Reporting Program at UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism.

It’s a remarkable list, representing millions of dollars in journalism budgets, a combined staff larger than the Vancouver Sun-Province reporter pool, numerous major awards, a steady stream of high-impact work, and millions of page views per month.

Some of the big ground broken in this little region:

  • The Tyee launched the 100-Mile Diet, helping spark the local food movement, and has reported early and continuously on fixing the housing affordability crisis. With no paywall, it’s nearly majority reader supported, with some philanthropic funding plus investment from a labour-tied fund.
  • The National Observer’s energy sector investigations have rocked Ottawa and forced resignations. It mixes revenues from paywall subscribers, philanthropies and other sources.
  • Discourse Media, which specializes in deeply reported projects it terms “collaborative”, is now offering its readers a chance to co-own the company as it aggressively pursues growth.
  • The non-profit Global Reporting Centre, whose mission is to innovate how global journalism is practiced and cover neglected issues worldwide, has crowdsourced storytellers to document the rise of xenophobia.
  • Hakai Magazine, backed by the Tula Foundation and tied to Hakai Institute, covers coastal science, ecology and communities. It pays top rates for stories from around the world, and has an in-house team producing frequently viral videos.
  • A single video interview about Site C dam published by non-profit DeSmog Canada drew 1.6 million views. It mixes funding from readers and philanthropies.

While these orgs aren’t muscling aside B.C. megafauna like the CBC, Globe and Mail, Postmedia and Huffington Post, they serve as “tip sheets” for those newsrooms, who often pick up their stories and run their own versions. In this way the smaller fry contribute to the public conversation by means rarely highlighted.

Increasingly, too, B.C.’s small independents are collaborating directly with traditional media:

  • The Tyee has partnered with the CBC on series about Indigenous education best practices, and affordable homes,
  • The National Observer is producing with the Toronto Star, Global News and others a major project tracking oil industry influence, in partnership with investigative journalism students from across the country,
  • Discourse Media helped research a Maclean’s feature on Indigenous overrepresentation in prisons,
  • DeSmog Canada worked closely with Aboriginal People’s Television Network Investigates on a Site C piece,
  • And Megaphone is joining with the CBC on a series about preventing overdoses.

What is emerging here is a good news story about the future of news, one worth paying attention to across Canada and beyond.

As the collapse of advertising revenues is threatening to kill Canada’s major newspaper chain, B.C.’s indies are far less dependent on ad dollars for their survival.

At a moment when trivial click-bait is said to rule, experiments in BC are instead pumping out in-depth, public interest journalism.

And the net result is a more fully informed citizenry, a healthier democracy.

Why did B.C. become home to Canada’s most vibrant news ecosystem? Credit the wellspring of creativity here — the province’s beauty and potential has long attracted change makers.

Credit, as well, a backlash empowered by digital tech. For decades, corporations headquartered in Central Canada have owned this province’s news giants and their content reflected it. The pent-up appetite for home grown media spawned upstarts rooted in B.C. culture and interests. That can irritate some outsiders. Alberta Oil magazine fretted that the “The Vancouver School” of journalism was too effectively making the case against pipelines connecting the oil sands to B.C.’s coast.

A more detailed map of media innovators in this province could include people behind many projects based elsewhere. British Columbians helped start, for example, the political site Ricochet, the foreign policy site OpenCanada,and The Conversation Canada, where academics share their findings in opinion pieces.

Fold in, too, B.C.’s advocates using media to mobilize and educate, groups including The Dogwood Initiative (environment), Karmik Opioid Crisis Response (drug harm reduction), Affinity Bridge (digital democracy), Fresh Voices (vulnerable youth), OpenMedia (Internet freedom) and many more.

For anyone interested in diving into this region’s dynamic scene, Vancouver Media Democracy Day offers a perfect opportunity on November 18 at the public library’s central branch downtown. Most of the entities mentioned above, and many more, will be on hand. Some will showcase their work. There will be workshops, roundtables, networking.

B.C. is home to an expanding media sector needing people to help it grow. If that’s news to you, Media Democracy Day is the place to plug in.

David Beers, an adjunct professor of Communication at Simon Fraser University and of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, is a co-organizer of Media Democracy Day 2017, and founding editor of The Tyee.

What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Solutions Media’?

This year’s Media Democracy Day in Vancouver looks for answers in a range of experiments.

By David Beers

Only one in nine Canadians say they have “a great deal of trust” in mainstream news media, according to an Ipsos poll conducted last year. The percentage is even lower among younger people aged 18-34. What’s eroding that trust?

Perceptions, no doubt, that too much media is soft on facts, strong on spin, even…fake.

But here’s another potential reason. Too much of our news media focuses on “What went wrong yesterday and who is to blame?” Too rarely does our news media investigate: “What might go right tomorrow? And who is showing the way?”

Yet citizens yearn to learn about examples of positive change. If we don’t know what is working, we can’t vote and push for more of it. Identifying potential solutions to our society’s challenges is key to our public conversation.  Solutions seekers skilled in the ways of media – reporting facts, explaining ideas in clear words and pictures – are vital to a healthy democracy.

So vital, that Solutions Media is the theme for this year’s Vancouver Media Democracy Day (MDD) – a day of workshops, roundtables and design jamming to be held November 18 at the Vancouver Public Library from 10 am to 6 pm.

When I and other MDD organizers we went looking for Solutions Media in our region we found several strands.

The first strand is solutions-focused journalism practiced, some days, by the CBC and corporate media, but increasingly done by digital independents such as Discourse Media, The National Observer, DeSmog Canada, Megaphone Magazine, Hakai Magazine and, a North American pioneer in this area, The Tyee Solutions Society. These entities report on solutions at least three ways.

  1. They may report on a successful local experiment which could be scaled up — for example, the lives saved by the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, now being replicated across Canada.
  2. They may tell us about solutions happening elsewhere — for example, the fact that all of Holland’s electric trains run on wind energy, as reported in Victoria-based Hakai Magazine. Could wind and tidal power change the energy equation in B.C?  
  3. Or journalists might live the solution and bring it alive through personal storytelling. That’s what J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith did when they launched the 100-Mile diet – and the local food revolution – on The Tyee back in 2005.

A second strand of Solutions Media includes social innovators who use media creatively to solve the issues they are tackling. Media Democracy Day will showcase some of these, including how Affinity Bridge employs data visualization to tell First Nations success stories; how Dogwood Initiative used digital tools to press for reform of B.C.’s political donations “wild west;” and how Karmik uses social media to alert youth about safe practices amidst the opioid crisis.  

A third strand includes news model innovators — actors striving to find solutions to the crisis in media itself. How, in an era when Facebook and Google are sucking up most ad dollars and traditional news business models are crumbling, can we re-invent media to fit this new era?

To see if we can come up with creative solutions to this very question, Vancouver MDD will be hosting an interactive “design jam” led by Vancouver Design Nerds – an organization founded in 2004 that “promotes, facilitates, and supports positive social, environmental and urban transformation by providing a platform for face-to-face creative collaboration.” The MDD design jam will come up with concrete ideas for making media more trustworthy and sustainable – attendees are invited to not watch, but participate in the solutions-making.

Digital tools and engaged citizens are driving a new era for Solutions Media. Vancouver’s Media Democracy Day, this year and going forward, wants to be a hub and showcase for the vibrant scene in this corner of Canada.  

 

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee and Tyee Solutions Society, and an adjunct professor at University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.

What is Solutions Media? The theme of MDD 2017!

We have released our 2017 MDD program which includes a Spry Memorial Keynote Exchangesolutions media showcase, roundtables and workshops, a design jam, and interactive public art installation.

Stay tuned for updates on Facebook and follow us on Twitter here.

What is solutions media?

Solutions media uses communication tools to respond to social problems. It can take a diversity forms, including journalism, digital tools, cultural products or public campaigns.

Why does solutions media matter now?

The rise of fake news, divisive partisan politics, social media bubbles, and the growing insecurity created by climate change and income inequality often results in a media landscape dominated by depressing and dismal perspectives on the world. Many people tune out as the news often leaves us feeling powerless, anxious, and resentful. This disengagement hurts not only our democracy but the resilience of our communities. This event is a step towards re-thinking how media can be a tool to drive more effective citizenship, more accountable government and a more vibrant public sphere.

Why come to MDD 2017?

We are offering a conference that is free and open to the public: Solutions Media is worthy of close study and discussion both inside and outside universities. With the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University as the host of Media Democracy Day, we are creating an accessible space where students, practitioners and citizens can learn new skills and explore the keys ideas associated with Solutions Media.

We are creating a big tent: Solutions Media makers are a broad community. MDD will bring together videographers, coders, storytellers, designers, podcasters, writers, artists…anyone who lends their skills to documenting solutions and making them public.

We are connecting key players: Vancouver and its region are a hotbed of Solutions Media producers, including pioneers going back over a decade. MDD attendees will get a chance to encounter over a dozen such people and organizations.

We are creating a space to find hope: Solutions Media is a zone of hope in today’s dark media climate, focusing on facts, diverse experiences, and positive change.

We are building a community of practice: Solutions Media is experiencing an explosion due to the Internet and the new funding models it allows. MDD will provide a space to learn about those models and how they are succeeding.

We are facilitating deep thinking about change: Solutions Media is a twoword phrase loaded with fascinating questions about the role of media makers, ideology vs. pragmatism, power relations, theories of social change and more. At MDD, leading thinkers will share their perspectives on the meaning and potential of Solutions Media.

We are creating a fun space: This year’s MDD will be hosting a ‘design jam’ where attendees can work together to create a solution to a problem facing media makers, an interactive media-making art installation, a video gallery of media projects and a lightning round presentation of amazing solutions-orientated projects being produced in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

The Many Ways to Fight Back After Orlando

The last week has been hard.

It reminded us that there are so many people around the world who do not get the opportunity to feel safe. We want to extend our deepest sympathies to the friends and families of the victims in the Orlando shooting, and our deepest anger at the complex reality that allowed this killing to occur.

You, like us, might be overwhelmed by the media coverage of this shooting, and outraged by how it has been co-opted by some in racist political rhetoric. These headlines are important, because they can simplify a story that is not simple.

When you have the space, please consider deepening this conversation about the identities of the victims, the race of the victims, hatred for the LGTBQ+ community, gun control, masculinity, the personal history of the shooter, and what meaningful way we can join together to ensure that this does not happen again.

With that, we want to highlight the Queer Arts Festival (QAF), which starts today and runs until June 30th. QAF’s Artistic Director, SD Holdman, states in a message titled Orlando Furioso: “Come because you are not afraid, or because you are. You are wanted here and you are not alone.”

The programming for the QAF this year is exciting and challenging. It includes the visual art exhibition Drama Queer: Seducing social change which is leading the festival with the notion that emotion is central to the history of queer activism and that its existence in contemporary queer art is a political practice.

Those who may or may not identify themselves as part of the community targeted by violence in Orlando, will find that the history of both fighting and celebration can be seen in much of the festival content. The QAF has been moved this year to June in order to commemorate the Stonewall Riots and the enormous amount that has been accomplished by this community since June 28, 1969. We can hold those accomplishments together with the knowledge that there is still so much work to be done.

Please take this opportunity to support this vital community and question what actions we can take to end violence. Passes and tickets to events available here.

-Sydney from the Media Democracy Project

Hear from Key Voices in Community Media Next Week at the Community Media Convergence

We’re pleased to be supporting the Community Media Convergence, Tzw0CONh_400x400a conference for alternative and
community media, at Carleton University, Ottawa, November 22-24, 2015.

See commediaconverge.ca – for program details, to register, or to access live-streaming of the sessions.

Community media broadcasting is officially recognized in Canada’s Broadcasting Act as one of three pillars of the broadcasting system. It fulfils democratic purposes that are not readily met by the other two sectors: private commercial (usually corporate-owned) broadcasters, and public broadcasters, like CBC. Through the participation of ordinary people and community organizations in production, and their community-owned not-for-profit structure, community media serve the public in several ways:

  • offer a counter-balance to concentrated ownership of corporate media, and to the biases of commercial broadcasting towards ratings-driven programming that primarily serves the needs of advertisers.
  • offer a democratic platform for free speech, including grassroots and local voices not often heard in “conventional” media.
  • can serve smaller populations that would not be attractive to advertising-based media, including rural communities, urban neighbourhoods, and other marginalized groups and voices in urban centres.
  • can generate a greater variety of programming, with more openness to experimentation rather than standardized formulas.
  • offer opportunities to their volunteers for training and practice in media production.

In all these ways, community media help to democratize both the media system, and the broader society. Yet despite their legal recognition, they are significantly under-resourced and are often facing the challenges of transitioning to a digital environment.

The Community Media Convergence brings together practitioners from community radio, TV, online platforms, and video games with a social or local focus. Together they share the purpose of developing better policy for community media and networking to share skills and build practices for community media in the digital age.

Find out more at commediaconverge.ca