Category Archives: Community

Community News Commons: Winnipeg’s grassroots public media project


There are no ads on the Community News Commons website.

That’s because for this site, the name of the game is not about making money.

Instead, CNC’s goal is undeniably, unabashedly altruistic: engaging Winnipeggers to inform each other about issues they feel are important.

It’s hinged on a belief that if citizens care enough about their community to write, discuss, debate what happens in it, a better city emerges.

It’s this philosophy that won the project funds fromKnight Foundation, after the organization decided to back initiatives  in partnership with community foundations. Knight matched a $200,000 donation from Winnipeg’s philanthropic The Winnipeg Foundation. It was the only Canadian project to win funding from Knight.

“The perspective from the Winnipeg Foundation is that if you are more informed about your community, you care more about it, and you’re going to have a relationship with the community,” said Noah Erenberg, Community News Commons Convener.

Continue reading Community News Commons: Winnipeg’s grassroots public media project strong community brings success co-founders Brad Kehler and Corwyn Friesen. co-founders Corwyn Friesen (left) and Brad Kehler.

Ask Brad Kehler and Corwyn Friesen what’s behind the success of their community news site, and they answer quickly: their community cares about what’s going on.

Kehler and Friesen, who met while working at the local Ford dealership, left their secure jobs and founded the site seven-and-a-half years ago. As they tell it, Friesen showed Kehler the early pages of mySteinbach and convinced him there was a need for a portal in the community to share news and information.

Steinbach has a local weekly paper in town, The Carillon.

“It comes out on a Thursday. What if local news happens on Friday? ” Kehler said

Though neither of the two were journalists, Kehler and Friesen set off to create a community news hub without a single writer to help.

They rented an office, mostly because they wanted people to take them seriously, and not be “two guys working out of a basement.

“If we didn’t have the office presence, we wouldn’t get the buy in,” Kehler explained. “We were in this to do this, we needed to give it all we’ve got.”

Continue reading strong community brings success

Capital Ideas: Creating a home for Edmonton’s entrepreneurs

Capital Ideas held its 13th event, "Building a Business," on Jan. 23, 2013 at the Edmonton Journal.
Capital Ideas’ October 2012 event ‘Creating a great customer experience.’

While the project is formally known as Capital Ideas, it’s also Postmedia’s Edmonton Experiment.

As well as a virtual space, Capital Ideas is a physical meeting place for Edmonton’s entrepreneurs. Monthly meetings allow for members of the city’s business community to connect and share ideas.

This doesn’t mean bringing in academics and consultants, but people who are already active in the business community.

“We’re based on idea that everyone who’s in business has learned a lot and wants to learn more, and that we can use the loud voice and the broad reach and the credibility of the Edmonton Journal to help them do that,” Karen Unland, Capital Ideas’ project lead,  said in an interview.


Audio: Hear Karen Unland describe Capital Ideas and how it’s received by the community



Continue reading Capital Ideas: Creating a home for Edmonton’s entrepreneurs

Postmedia Labs: a startup within a major news organization

Duncan Clark at his workspace at Postmedia labs
Duncan Clark’s Postmedia labs is more startup than old-school traditional news organization.

Postmedia Labs looks and feels  your typical startup.

The office, complete with three full-time employees and two journalism school interns (introduced as ‘the two Rebeccas’), is anything but grand.

The office is in a converted bicycle factory in east-end Toronto, which it shares an office with another start up, Checkout 51. For our interview, Duncan Clark, VP: Strategic Initiatives at Postmedia, took me down the hall to a communal boardroom.

Compare this to the lush office space of Postmedia Labs’ mothership, Postmedia’s head office is north of the city in Don Mills. Think big corporate, big money quasi-suburban campus rather than the downtown urban workspace where Clark is pumping out his big ideas.

For Clark, setting up Postmedia Labs away from Postmedia was critical.

“This needed specific and deliberate space,” Clark said. “When you’re looking at establishing something that is culturally different, there’s a benefit to working outside.”

“The established way doesn’t work anymore. We need to be a lean startup. A successful startup can have very low costs and take small, incremental risks.”

Continue reading Postmedia Labs: a startup within a major news organization

Community newsrooms I’ll be examining

Photo by Flikr user ChopperReed.
Photo by Flickr user Chopper Reed.

It’s time to get off the pot.

It’s time to start my research into community newsrooms and their relationship with traditional news outlets.

I’ve already defined what I’m referring to in terms of ‘community newsroom’, and I’ve (attempted) to develop a criteria for the information these newsrooms are creating.

All that’s left in this phase of the project (according to my handy Gantt chart) is to list newsrooms I’ll be examining.

With this, and all other stages of research, I’d love your help. If I’m missing a great community newsroom project in Canada or the U.S., please, by all mean, let me know.

Continue reading Community newsrooms I’ll be examining

Hard or soft news – you tell me

Photo by Flickr user Eva Rinaldi
Photo by Flickr user Eva Rinaldi

As I research community newsrooms, I plan to note the kind of stories are being produced.

Struggling with shrinking resources and budgets, I’m sure many publishers think it would be grand to think that a citizen journalist might sit down and cover a town council meeting – but is this really the case?

My gut tells me that the community would far rather review a new local burger joint than produce 750 words on a transportation committee meeting.

But that’s just my gut. I have no numbers to back this up.

And I want these numbers.

Put simply, I plan to measure (as well as you can measure journalistic productivity) these categories of content into hard or soft news.

Continue reading Hard or soft news – you tell me

Defining ‘community newsroom’

Photo by Flickr user Steven W.
Photo by Flickr user Steven W.

The first task, as I begin this project to examine community newsrooms and their impact on the traditional news organizations, is to define what the heck I’m looking at.

When I detailed  my plan to research community newsrooms, a few readers of this blog were correct in pointing out that I need to begin for defining a community newsroom.

Indeed, when when speaking to a relative (and small business owner) about my project, she asked “What the heck do you mean by community newsroom?”

Community can mean many things to different people. For some it’s gepgraphic, others it’s demographic.

Joseph Thornley, CEO of PR firms Thornley Fallis and 76 Design,  noted the newsrooms I intend to examine didn’t have an ‘about’ page, to explain exactly what they were. His suggestion:

Perhaps you could start out with a post defining a “community newsroom” and listing some of the key characteristics/functions common to them.

Great idea. So here goes…

Continue reading Defining ‘community newsroom’

How I plan to examine/research/submerge myself in community newsrooms

Photo by Flickr user Aprilesole

Soon I’ll find myself out of a newsroom as I head for university life, spending the next four months in academia.

(Cue fish-out-of-water cliches.)

In June, I was awarded the first-ever Michener-Deacon Fellowship for journalism education.

As part of that fellowship, I’ll be a journalist-in-residence at Carleton University, and teaching a multimedia class to third-year journalism students.

Another part of that fellowship involves a research project, and in my proposal I outlined how I’d like to examine community newsrooms.

My original plan was broad enough to be a PhD dissertation, I worked with Christopher Waddell, the Director of the School of Journalism at Carleton, to sharpen its focus. I’d like to examine Canadian initiatives, as well as projects south of the border. And most importantly, it has to be a study that can be completed in four months, the length of the fellowship.

So, here goes – thus far:

Continue reading How I plan to examine/research/submerge myself in community newsrooms

UPDATED: Freelancers write open letter to OpenFile for payment, Dinnick responds

UPDATE: Further down this post, you will read how OpenFile’s CEO Wilf Dinnick says in a note to freelancers that a J-Source article about his organization ceasing operations was “incorrect on many counts.” I asked the writer of this article, Kelly Toughill, Director of the School of Journalism at University of King’s College in Halifax about this. She responded:

Wilf has not asked for a correction or clarification from me or from anyone at J-Source. Nor has Wilf posted any comments on the J-Source site, which he is welcome to do.  Wilf did contact me after the story ran. I offered to clarify anything he felt was misconstrued, but he declined and explicitly stated that he did not want a correction or a follow. Everything in the original story is true to the best of my knowledge; most of it is based on my original interview with Wilf and our email exchanges.

Wilf Dinnick deserves credit for tackling the key problem of our era: the collapse of the business model for public-service journalism. He poured his heart and soul into a bold experiment in a time of excruciating uncertainty. Lessons learned from OpenFile will be at least as important as the viability of the model itself.


Some of OpenFile‘s former freelancers have written an open letter to Wilf Dinnick, the community news organization’s founder and head.

OpenFile, a network of local news site that wrote stories based on community suggestions, ceased operations in late September.

In a tumblr they plan to update, they wrote openly to Dinnick:

As freelancers who put many hours of work into OpenFile’s growth over the past few years, we were all disappointed to hear in late September that it would cease publishing. Freelance journalism isn’t an easy business, and it became a bit tougher when one of the most encouraging prospects for young journalists shut down.

When the organization closed, many of OpenFile’s freelancers were still waiting to be paid. Some of us had been waiting for months. In late October, several of us emailed company founder Wilf Dinnick, asking when we would be paid. We received no response.

A week later, Dinnick spoke with J-Source. His comments were hardly reassuring. In an email sent to some freelancers on Oct. 2 Dinnick had promised payment soon, at the end of a period of “restructuring.” But he then told J-Source that auditors had physically removed the company’s books and frozen the accounts.

In the interview, Dinnick said that most bills were for only $100 or $200, and only 10 freelancers were owed more than $500.
We wonder why the company would decide to drag freelancers with such small invoices along, for so long, with so little in the way of direction.
Many of the freelancers signing this letter are owed over $1,000. Budgeting without knowing how much money we’ll have in our pockets hasn’t been easy.
Dinnick also implied that paying freelancer within 30 days was somehow a cause of OpenFile’s financial woes. Payment within 30 days was certainly not the norm, and most of us grew accustomed to waiting two or three times that long.
I contacted Dinnick about the open letter,  who called so much of the coverage about OpenFile ‘misleading’, and said he really didn’t need any more confusion.

Letting the crowd direct Parliament Hill coverage

Photo: Chris Mikula, Ottawa Citizen

Albeit quietly, there was an interesting journalism experiment conducted on Parliament Hill this week.

Every day, there is a list of committee meetings, panels and other goings-on in Ottawa. The trick for most journalists on the Hill is figuring out which one to attend, and which event will hold the most interest for readers.

So Macleans‘ Nick Taylor-Vaisey decided to ask his readers to decide: to tell him where he should spend his day.

Continue reading Letting the crowd direct Parliament Hill coverage