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Merry December-time to all of you from almost all of us at The Discourse! (Not pictured: Anita Li and Caitlin Havlak.) Ross Johnson/The Discourse

How you helped us redefine journalism in 2018

A community-powered year in review.

This is from our weekly Discourse newsletter. Make sure to share it and subscribe here.


Wow, what a year! This time last year The Discourse team was counting down the final days of our equity crowdfunding campaign. With over 300 people investing $350,000, it was a remarkable achievement — the problem was, as I wrote here, it wasn’t as successful as we had ambitiously dreamed. In January, we were 40 per cent short of the funding we needed to launch our new member-powered news media platform, and we didn’t know what the year would bring.

We kept working at it. In March, despite the fact we were still short funding, we launched our new member-powered journalism platform The Discourse. During those first few months, we attracted 850 members and our audience grew by an average of 27 per cent per month. We were off to the races!

Meantime, The Discourse was selected as a SheEO venture and accepted into the IDEABOOST accelerator at the CFC Media Lab. Both these competitive business programs came with funding and advisory support. We were inching closer to our funding goal by the day.

Then we hit a setback. We were selected for review by provincial regulators, whose mandate includes ensuring that companies using equity crowdfunding are compliant with financial disclosure regulations. We eventually completed the review successfully, but it delayed our funding by months.

Faced with significantly less funding than expected, we had to make some difficult choices. How could we keep growing and serving The Discourse community with fewer resources? We got creative. We asked for a lot of help. And our community stepped up.

Our employees temporarily reduced their salaries to save jobs. Our vendors contributed in-kind services. Our funders pitched in where they could. The Discourse came out of this experience stronger and more committed, based on the strength of our relationships with each other and our partners.

The setback also inspired us to get hyper-focused on what we do best. When we analyzed the data since launching, we realized that our most successful stories were the result of reporters with strong relationships rooted in place. We doubled down, and went local.

We relaunched The Discourse in three communities: Scarborough, Ont., the urban Indigenous community in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, and Cowichan Valley, B.C. We’re seeing phenomenal engagement in these communities, both on- and offline, and we believe they offer a living laboratory to develop a sustainable model for community journalism. Read the full story behind how we’re reimagining the community newspaper here.

Our team of journalists collaborated with our communities to tell dozens of untold stories in 2018. Here are a few of our favourites:

The Discourse team was also recognized for journalistic excellence with several award nominations in 2018, including a silver medal from the Digital Publishing Awards for best personal essay (Kids of Addiction); a Webster nomination for Excellence in Digital Journalism for the small-town reconciliation series we co-produced with CBC, and a second nomination for Breaking Tradition in the business reporting category; a nomination from the Online News Association for our series on the housing crisis on First Nations reserves in Canada; and a Landsberg Award nomination for our coverage of women’s equality issues in Canada.  

We also contributed to conversations about the future of the news industry. We were invited to present at conferences including the Canadian Association of Journalists in Toronto, the International Journalism Festival in Italy, the Fagfestival in Denmark, NewsFoundry in Philadelphia and others. We contributed to industry consultations informing Heritage Canada’s $595 million journalism package (you can read my view on what the package means for news innovation here). And we produced a research report The Rise of Audience-Funded Journalism in Canada that looks at the 93-plus news outlets that opened in local markets during these tough economic times for media — and hosted the first gathering of independent digital media in Canada.

Thank you again for your support in 2018. 

Did you hear (what I hear)?

Allie Kidd and her nine-year-old son Michael are learning Cree together. Uytae Lee/The Discourse
  • Ojibwe? What language will you be speaking around the dinner table this holiday? In September, the Pacific Association of First Nations Women launched weekly Cree and Ojibwe language classes. One of the teachers was beaten in residential school 65 years ago for speaking her language. Now she’s teaching a new generation to speak Ojibwe.

  • Cree? And here’s our video featuring some of the students on how much it means to them to learn to speak their language.

  • The trees? Residents of North Cowichan came out in droves to a city council meeting about the future of municipal logging. Some came to speak for the trees, as reported by Jacqueline Ronson.
  • Holiday shoppers? If you’re thinking of buying some Indigenous-themed gifts this holiday season, be sure to read these three tips to make sure you’re buying authentic Indigenous art.

  • Laughter? Reporter Wawmeesh Hamilton shared a not-so-customary Indigenous land acknowledgement at an event in Vancouver this month. Check out his take on his talk here.

Shout-outs

Thanks for testing if mail delivery is really back to normal, Sabina! It was fun getting an old-school postcard in the snail mail from you. We’re just curious if the Nineteen Eighty-Four reference had any hidden meaning…?

Here’s the front and back of Sabina’s Orwellian postcard.

And thanks to our members who are writing in to help with our community-powered investigation tracking fake Indigenous art. Discourse member Jesse Whitehead went international and shared this photo from his vacation in Bali this August. Jesse, who has spent some time living on Haida Gwaii, noticed the totems being carved. He asked some questions, shared what he learned with us and snapped this photo. Thanks for sharing, Jesse!

Discourse member Jesse Whitehead was travelling in Bali and noticed these totems being carved. He says the carver told him they are shipped abroad to be sold as souvenirs on cruise ships.

When you’re out there this holiday season, at an airport or in a shop, be sure to keep an eye out for any Indigenous- themed art and let us know what you find. Watch this video to find out more about how you can help us investigate, and email artsearch@thediscourse.ca.

Want to help us have an even better 2019? Become a member of The Discourse. As a member, you’ll get to go behind the scenes of our editorial process and make an impact by contributing to our investigations. Sign up here.