Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Pacific Content’s podcasts are all sponsored by companies — but at least there aren’t any ads
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
June 24, 2010, noon

Cash from every corner: Three kooky ways Vancouver’s Tyee pays for top-shelf regional journalism

If “diversified revenue” is journalism’s newest cliché, I dare you to dig up a better anecdote than The Tyee, an oddly named gem in Vancouver, B.C.

The seven-year-old online newsmagazine, which pounds out left-leaning daily content with a Slate-y verve, has six full-time employees, 20 regular freelancers, a Gawkeresque rainbow of branded sections, and the kookiest revenue cluster I’ve ever seen.

I met Tyee editor and co-founder David Beers earlier this year at a Seattle journalism conference where he said he’d come to promote The Tyee as a model of sustainable, award-winning web-based reporting.

You might squirm at some of their funding — read on! — but Beers and his team are clearly on to something. According to Beers, their operation’s annual revenue of about $500,000 to $600,000 includes $450,000 from ongoing sale of equity, $75,000 from advertising, $50,000 from grants, $25,000 from reader donations, and (my favorite) a few thousand bucks from renting out newsroom desks to people they don’t know.

(We’ve been hoping to get exact figures, but go figure: Tyee business editor Michelle Hoar has been too swamped with work around their latest venture, a nonprofit arm called the Tyee Solutions Society, to pull totals together.)

Here are three revenue tricks Beers, Hoar and their team are hoping other innovators will steal:

Topical pledge drives. “Give us money because we rock” may work well for NPR affiliates, but Beers has avoided making such a generalized pitch to readers. “I didn’t believe that The Tyee had reached that level of belovedness,” he said.

His solution, last summer: Give donors a choice of which issues the Tyee should be covering during Canada’s 2009 election season. Beers’ team prepared a multiple-choice list of hot topics, and any money donated toward each one would be guaranteed to go toward that type of spending.

“We call it ‘crowdsourcing our editorial board,'” Beers said.

Everybody knows that major donors and foundations like to attach strings to their grants. Turns out small donors like it, too. The Tyee’s election-season pitch brought in $25,000 in 10 days.

Interest-group ownership. The Tyee bills itself as journalism first, politics second — you won’t see “progressive” or “left” anywhere in its branding — but more than half its money comes from unions.

Specifically, the cash comes from Working Enterprises, a family of companies affiliated with the British Columbia Federation of Labor that also includes insurance, travel and financial services firms that cater to Canadian union members. In exchange for an annual subsidy of $300,000, Working Enterprises owns two-thirds of The Tyee’s theoretically for-profit operation. (Investor Eric Peterson owns the other third, for annual payments of $150,000.)

Beers’s advice to journalism entrepreneurs: Find an interest group that has a bone to pick with the mainstream media, and sell them on the sort of reporting you want to do. If they’re smart, they’ll realize it doesn’t cost much to add a friendly voice to the media din — and that they’ll only add to your credibility if they stay out of editorial decisions.

Beers, 52, a former Vancouver Sun reporter, said he’s never had ethical qualms. Even when his writers cover unions, which they sometimes do. “We draw the lines clearly, in a friendly, cheerful way, and move on,” he said.

Renting out desks in the newsroom. Every journalist knows the joys of working in a newsroom — the bustle, the grousing, the periodic adrenaline. Turns out, some non-journalists sorta get off on that, too.

Because The Tyee’s office above Vancouver’s Chinatown was a little bigger than they need, they’ve made three desks available for $250 a month each. Wireless Internet, kitchen, and utilities are included. Think of it as coworking in a newsroom.

Beers sees potential for selling access to newsroom synergies. “Journalists can be pretty valuable to some people — there’s a certain rigor and skepticism about what we do,” Beers said. “We have our ear to the ground, so we can say, ‘Oh yeah, somebody’s already working on that.'”

As for Mitchell Anderson, one of the Tyee’s desk tenants, he just thinks working in the newsroom is a blast.

“The rent is relatively cheap and it’s a nice location, but the main thing I get out of that is a peer group,” said Anderson, general manager of a local beachcombers’ co-op and an “occasional” freelance writer. “I really enjoy chatting with bright people about interesting things.”

POSTED     June 24, 2010, noon
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Pacific Content’s podcasts are all sponsored by companies — but at least there aren’t any ads
Branded podcasts want to break out of the traditional intrusive model of advertising: “There are no interruptions for two or three minutes in the middle of a story. There are no top and tail ad breaks. There are no coupon codes.”
Hot Pod: What should an on-demand news podcast look like?
Plus: Remixing podcast talent to build new shows, Google prepares to enter the market in a big way, and how to avoid “radiosplaining.”
Newsonomics: The New York Times restarts its new-product model, in Spanish
After a few expensive misfires, the Times is building new products on a smaller, more targeted scale.
What to read next
0
tweets
Out of many, NPR One: The app that wants to be the “Netflix of listening” gets more local
A big update moves NPR One yet another step in the direction of becoming a one-stop shop for all audio content, from local newscasts to podcasts outside the NPR world.
0Need to find, keep, and maximize talent today? Look to an old-school example, Gene Roberts
“Virtually every hire should be part of a long-range master plan of journalistic excellence.”
0The New York Times and WBUR are bringing ‘Modern Love’ essays to life with sounds and celebrity reads
“We’re trying to touch people just through sound, in a really profound way.”
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Reuters
The Economist
The Globe and Mail
The Fiscal Times
Backfence
MediaBugs
Tribune Publishing
Mozilla
PolitiFact
Associated Press
BBC News
The Batavian