Meet the minds behind Canada’s online news start-ups

Online news start-ups are collaborative, innovative, and full of great journalism — but where’s the money? Former J-Source associate editor Dana Lacey introduces you to the minds behind Canada’s online news start-ups, as they try to answer the biz’s biggest elephant-in-the-room question.

TheMarkOnline news start-ups are collaborative, innovative, and full of great journalism — but where’s the money? At last Tuesday’s Canadian Journalism Foundation panel, moderator Andrea Mandel-Campbell put this oft-ignored question to the four founding editors of Canada’s top online news sites: David Beers (The Tyee) Jeff Anders (The Mark), Wilf Dinnick (Open File) and James Baxter (

As it turns out, no two run their companies exactly the same. You’ll find a grab bag of corporate sponsorships, targeted advertising, angel investors, roll-up-their-sleeves-and-help investors and altruistic donations. Some are even in the black, but barely. And even then, the funding issue is always nipping at their heels. “I thought there’d be a lot more Tyees by now,” admits Beers.

In the end, he adds, it is collaboration, not competition that will save online news organizations. During the panel, he proposed the four sites — and other new media ventures like them — form a partnership for one-stop shopping for ad space on all the sites, a tactic already employed by small magazines and the Canadian University Press. (It also works for, which occasionally shares its content with The Tyee and PBS Mediashift, and vice versa.)

While all four panellists were optimistic about their front-seat views in the evolution of journalism, no one’s quite figured out where the real profits are — yet. One thing’s for sure, though, says Dinnick: new media are the tugboats to mainstream media’s ocean linear, a symbiotic relationship that should be nurtured should we want to keep both afloat.

In the meantime, none of the four organizations are about to let money (or lack thereof) stop them from producing great journalism. “News is a conversation about risk and what is possible,” Beers says. “What should you dare to think is possible?”

Read J-Source’s liveblog for a more detailed account of the event. Here are a few of the ideas that were raised during the discussion:

“There’s a lot of terrific opinion in Canada, but not a lot of reporting.” — James Baxter on why he launched

“Journalism isn’t valued as it should be, especially online.” — Wilf Dinnick on how hard it is to get paid.

“Of the last 1,000 things published on The Mark’s site, 90 per cent weren’t profitable. 10 per cent were. Can we afford to pay everybody? No. Can we do some revenue sharing going forward? Yes.” — Jeff Anders on how to get paid writing for The Mark.

“Write for free to build your reputation, and use your reputation to get paid doing something else.” — David Beers on how to make it as a journalist.

Dana Lacey is a
Toronto freelance writer, editor and photographer. She helps journalists liveblog as
the digital journalism specialist at ScribbleLive. Follow her via @danalacey