In many ways, 2018 was a brutal year for journalism, as Time rightly highlighted in selecting journalists murdered or imprisoned, or “guardians of the war on truth” as they called them, for its 2018 Person of the Year cover.
There were moments this year when it felt like we were alone swimming against a tide of ugly discourse, and barely keeping afloat. What chance did our little newsroom have to build a better kind of journalism when the whole world seemed to be moving in the opposite direction?
But this year also brought a more empowering insight: we are so not alone in this fight.
For a long time, it felt like The Discourse was alone, an outlier among stories of layoffs and newsroom closures. I often wondered if I was insane for being optimistic about the future of journalism. That changed this fall. When The Discourse shifted to local community-driven coverage, we stopped paying so much attention to the Postmedia deathwatch and began looking at a much more interesting development: 93 local news organizations launched during these tough economic times.
We wanted to know: who are these new players? Who are they not? Are they having an impact? We’ve just released what we learned in a new report: The Rise of Audience-Funded Journalism in Canada. We identified an emerging subsector of the news industry, growing in communities underserved by other media, that is innovative, dynamic, fast-growing, and positioned to have a disproportionate impact on the Canadian news ecosystem. We also found that women and people of colour are underrepresented among the founders of these new ventures, which raises concerns that the future of journalism could continue to fail to represent all Canadians if this is not addressed. We’ve got some recommendations in the report to help these outlets grow and diversify.
I will inevitably find myself feeling like that lone swimmer struggling against the current at some point in 2019. When that happens, I will look back to a moment in Toronto two weeks ago. The Discourse invited digital media focused on public-powered models to gather for a day at the CFC Media Lab. It was the first time, to my knowledge, that all these independent digital players were in the same room together. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear from other journalist entrepreneurs betting that their audience too will pay for journalism that they value.
The only way anything ever changes is when people take bold actions within their power. I think my future self will remember that day in Toronto, surrounded by journalists so committed to their craft to take huge personal and professional risks, as a moment the media system in Canada shifted.
We got this,