Five questions for OpenFile’s Wilf Dinnick

The community-powered news site is growing — and fast. We talk to OpenFile's CEO Wilf Dinnick about a busy summer, the quest to commercialize, and blowing out the one-year birthday candles.

The community-powered news site is growing — and fast. We talk to OpenFile's CEO Wilf Dinnick about a busy summer, the quest to commercialize, and blowing out the one-year birthday candles.

J-Source: As you say, summer is usually a slow time for news organizations, but not so OpenFile. What are you doing while the rest of us are at the beach?Are you getting any sleep?

Wilf Dinnick: I am likely getting a bit more sleep than most members of the OpenFile team. As a start-up, we have few resources. Each person has to take on three or four jobs. Name someone on our team and I could easily give them a handful of job titles… and that goes for our editors too. They juggle so many different tasks and roles on any given day. It’s remarkable and, frankly, awe-inspiring to watch.  

J-Source: You're redesigning much of the site. Why? What will the redesign allow you to do, and how will it make OpenFile better for readers?

WD: We learned so much in OpenFile’s first year. When you have real-time analytics online, you can see what people like and what they pass over. So we took all that information and are throwing all of our resources behind what really worked.

We also had the great fortune of working with academic and journalist Hedy Korbe. She took a long, hard and independent look at OpenFile. She surveyed OpenFile readers, interviewed the editors and dug into the analytics. The insights from her study were terribly valuable and helpful.

We took all this information and are building on it. We are so excited about OpenFile’s next phase.

J-Source: You mentioned a massive jump in daily content. How will you pull this off? And, speaking of content, are there more HuffPo collaborations to come — or others? How did readers react to the partnership?

WD: One thing we knew early on, and the readers told us, is that they love OpenFile but there was not enough of it. As a piece of criticism, this was great to hear.

In one independent survey, 50%+ reported they believed OpenFile was better than other local media and 40%+ said they believed OpenFile was just as good as other local media.

What people said they wanted was more content and some of our files/stories should be tied to news-of-the-day, as well. We agreed. So there is going to be a huge bump in our daily content and reasons for our readers to come to OpenFile more than once a day.

J-Source: So, your big focus is on commercializing OpenFile. Tell me more about what this means. What benefits will this bring you, writers, and readers? What has the reaction been to the new ads so far? What, ideally, will a "commercialized" OpenFile look, read and feel like?

WD: We built OpenFile as a business. However, we were not naive to think advertisers would flock to us in the first few months when we went online. So we spent the vast majority of our first year building the audience and the brand. Kathy Vey, Craig Silverman, John Ferri and the team of editors ensure we are just as careful and credible with our reporting as the best in the business.  

When OpenFile started we went to a few big corporations to help us in our first year and TD came on board. We will never forget their support and we hope to be able to offer them some more amazing value in the coming year.

TD also deserves a massive amount of gratitude from our industry because they helped support innovation, a new journalism venture, and consider digital journalism in this country to be important.

Now a year in, we have built a great brand and our audience is loyal, strong and growing. As we bring out the new changes in the site, mentioned above, we will focus on advertising.

I think advertisers will see the benefits of what we have to offer — a loyal audience of ‘influencers’ who are vocal about their values in their communities. We
are small, nimble and able to offer brands a great way to get some of their useful messages out to our readers.
J-Source: It's only been a year, but OpenFile is already hugely successful — and readers seem to demand it keep growing. What is it about OpenFile that resonates so well with readers? Did you expect to grow this fast?

WD: We think OpenFile’s growth is the result of counting on the readers as a real resource. We work with readers to get important stories told, and not just a
call-out for photos or asking for tips, from time-to-time. Collaboration is our core value. This is also something we plan to grow as a part of our evolution.

At OpenFile, many of the stories you see are the ones people have told us they think are important. Who should know better the important stories in communities, than the people who live in those communities?

We also know our growth is the result of all the great freelancers who work with OpenFile. We will continue to offer a fair contract that licences only the rights we believe are essential. We also hope freelancers continue to see OpenFile as a great resource.
All this and working with our great partners like the HuffingtonPost, PostMedia and a few more to be announced. We know can really work together with larger media companies that want, and frankly need, collaboration with the public.

We are terribly excited about OpenFile’s future, and we are especially thrilled about what we are going to offer this coming year.