Note from session B, 1:30 pm, Saturday January 10.
“The Tyee of Vancouver, a six-year old independent online success story (so far): are there lessons to share and alliances to be made elsewhere in Cascadia?”
The Tyee is an online news source based in Vancouver and aimed at a regional audience (British Columbia extending into Canada and Cascadia). It has 160,000 unique visitors and 600,000 page views a month, most from B.C.; has broken many important news stories and launched the 100 Mile Diet; received many awards including this year the Edward R. Murrow for North America.
David Beers, editor of The Tyee, broke the story of his publication into five ‘chapters’ he sensed were relevant to attendees given the conference discussions up to that point. The chapters were:
1. Getting funded, and launched
2. Gaining credibility and profile in the community
3. Creating a creative, rewarding work environment and relationship with journalist contributors
4. Developing new streams of revenue, including from readers
5. Having an impact for positive change through journalistic excellence
Getting funded, and launched
Beers was a well-known journalist in the community and, sensing dissatisfaction with the fact that corporation CanWest dominated BC’s news market, made public appeals that a new publication was needed. Organized labour stepped forward and, through an investment fund flowing from companies founded by and serving labour, seeded The Tyee web site with $190,000 the first year. Beers emphasized two innovations on the part of labour: The creation of the investment fund, and the vision to fund true independent journalism rather than ‘campaign’ communication.
The money mostly went to pay for cloning an existing website, a web master, Beers as editor, a half time business director and a freelance budget.
Gaining credibility and profile in the community
The goal from the beginning was to create breaking news – political, environmental, etc – that could not be ignored by the rest of the media, so as to win acceptance for The Tyee into the local “news ecology”. That was achieved thanks to seasoned journalists, some from CanWest, who wrote on contract for The Tyee in early years. The CBC and other non-CanWest outlets helped greatly by spotlighting Tyee coverage and having Beers and other Tyee writers on programs to discuss the news.
Creating a creative, rewarding work environment and relationship with journalist contributors
Despite the solid early funding, the ambitions of The Tyee meant journalists could not be hired on staff or paid corporate wages. Other rewards caused journalists to want to participate: The mission of the Tyee to diversify media; ability to initiate and pursue their own stories; a friendly, enjoyable working relationship with the editor; fast turn-around on stories from filing to publishing; ‘buzz’ in the community about their stories; belonging to a community of peers starting something new. Six years on The Tyee has a comfortable office that acts as a ‘newsroom café’ for staff and contributors. The Tyee has always paid journalists for their work, so as to acknowledge that creating news reporting and grounded analysis is real work and not merely an avocation.
Developing new streams of revenue, including from readers
Over time The Tyee’s original labour-related investment has grown, as additional sources of revenue have been added to make the current budget approx a half million dollars a year. Those sources include: An additional primary funding partner; advertising; philanthropic grants from foundations and individuals; contracts for research; government grants; reader contributions.
The Tyee model for reader donations is to build the request around tangible ‘value added’ moments for the web site. For example, on the eve of a recent election, The Tyee asked readers to help fund coverage, and invited them to name the issue they wanted their money used to cover. The Tyee published a graph showing what the readers wanted, then set out to satisfy their wishes, reporting out at the end in detail on the 260 original pieces of reporting their $25,000 in contributions made possible. The contributions came in over a ten day stretch in $50 amounts on average.
Having an impact for positive change through journalistic excellence
The Tyee has led its region’s reporting on some key issues including environment, homelessness, local food security, and in all these areas has broken stories that can be seen to have contributed to eventual change and/or an enlivening of local activism. From the beginning the intent of those launching The Tyee was to have an impact on the local news ecology and, by extension, the civic imagination about what is possible in its part of the world. Flowing from that, the top priority was to craft journalism of excellence by traditional standards – new findings, well sourced, balanced reporting, track record of getting it right – so as to become a must read for civic influentials in the region. The term civic influential applies as much to a highly engaged young person who uses social media in activist ways as it does to a highly placed politico. The result is a news site that is more policy wonk than tabloid, more magazine than manifesto. While there are various ways for readers to interact – moderated comments, a flickr photo pool, etc. – the emphasis remains on producing news stories and analysis that can go ‘viral’ and have an impact with those who are politically engaged and/or in positions to lead opinion and shape decisions.
The editor sees a value in maintaining that culture but also welcomes a myriad of new journalistic experiments of many different models. The Tyee is always open to discussing ways to collaborate and help promote media democracy.