A collective of community-based media organizations across Canada hope to advocate for the independent media sector

When the 2019 federal budget measures for journalism were released, the government invited “eight associations that represent Canadian journalism” to join an independent panel that would recommend eligibility criteria.

For Jeremy Klaszus, editor-in-chief of Calgary-based online platform the Sprawl, that was when he and other independent publishers realized they didn’t have a unified voice to represent their part of the news landscape.

Press Forward, a new national nonprofit association for independent news organizations, is hoping to change that.

The association, publicly launched on Dec. 9, aims to “unify, elevate and advocate for independent journalism organizations” across Canada.

So far, the association has eight members covering local communities across Canada, including the Sprawl, La Converse, the Discourse, the Narwhal, West End Phoenix, Village Media, the Coast, National Observer and the Tyee.

The association was born out of a three-day conference in Toronto in 2019 where independent media outlet representatives, media development professionals and researchers convened to discuss the needs and concerns of independent media. 

Emma Gilchrist, the chair of Press Forward and editor-in-chief of the Narwhal, said that there was “a lot of excitement about just being in a room together” at the initial conference.

“There was a lot of excitement about working together, collaborating and also formalizing a voice for our sector because up until now, there hasn’t really been a voice for independent media organizations,” said Gilchrist.

Klaszus, a Press Forward board member, said that independent publishers often “are on their own” in terms of advocacy. 

“You’re trying to carve out a spot for independent journalism, but it’s very solitary in a way,” said Klaszus.

According to Klaszus, Press Forward will take a variety of approaches to their advocacy work, including issuing statements and speaking directly to government officials who are responsible for developing policy on journalism support.

Klaszus said there are several opportunities for advocacy work in terms of federal policy, including the modernization of the Canada Periodical Fund, tax credits, the Local Journalism Initiative and enabling non-profit news organizations to issue tax receipts.

“Many industry groups are focused on the medium — newspaper, magazine, broadcasting — but Press Forward is platform agnostic, which creates space for online-only outlets, which have often been left out,” he said.

Platform agnostic, according to Press Forward’s website, means “members can be digital-only publications, printed newspapers, radio stations, podcasts or a hybrid of any or all of these or other platforms.”

Klaszus said that a lot of the discussions about the future of journalism centres around preserving the models of the past, so uniting independent media organizations through Press Forward was integral in giving a voice to independent media.

“Let’s actually look at what is the future of journalism in Canada,” said Klaszus. 

Gilchrist said coming out of the conference, there was “quite a bit of talk” about new revenue models for journalism, especially reader revenue.

“I think that’s one of the exciting things that unites most of the Press Forward groups, is that they’re really reinvigorating the relationship with the reader in order to build a new business model for journalism,” said Gilchrist.

All of the member organizations are independently owned or are nonprofits, have clearly posted journalistic guidelines and are “committed to diversity and equity in their work,” she said. 

The Press Forward team knows from the work of organizations like the Canadian Journalists of Colour and Canadian Association of Black Journalists that media diversity is “a really big concern” and news organizations haven’t been sufficiently self-reporting on the composition of their newsrooms. 

“We wanted to really foreground that call to action from the Canadian Journalists of Colour and Canadian Association of Black Journalists, as something that we deem important and that members of Press Forward would be expected to do,” said Gilchrist.

Klaszus said that the association is working on providing templates for journalistic and diversity and equity policies for their members. 

“It’s something you can use and adapt to your organization. Instead of a bunch of organizations reinventing the wheel, you can tap into a wealth of knowledge, basically,” said Klaszus.

While Gilchrist said that things are still under development, the organization will host  professional development opportunities in the future around topics like building a membership program or reader donation technology.

Right now, Gilchrist says that the goal is to just get the word out and attract new members.

“Growing our membership and advocating for the best interests of the sector are going to be the top two priorities for the first little bit,” she said. 

Klaszus hopes that Press Forward will build a strong community that people can “plug into” if they’re interested in getting their own independent news organization off the ground.

“Here’s a network of organizations where people support each other and we share knowledge,” said Klaszus. “It all goes back to community.”