By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor
A group of people in British Columbia are going into uncharted territory to fund new journalism projects.
The project is the brainchild of Phillip Smith, who is currently the director of technology at the Tyee. Earlier this year, Smith called on Canadians to look in their own backyard and invest in homegrown journalism startups in response to the recent contractions of Canada’s media industry. A few months later, on April 29, he announced the Uncharted Journalism Fund. “My response has been to agitate for bold experiments, and this is just another small effort to help encourage and enable people to explore new directions,” he wrote in a Medium post.
In Vancouver, where he is based, Smith had noticed there was a desire among his colleagues to see more experiments in journalism. “I thought there must be a way to help move…forward that’s kind of lightweight and easier than trying to find money from a newsroom or from a foundation,” he said.
The idea has its roots in Toronto’s Awesome Foundation, which Smith was involved in. In the Uncharted model, a group of trustees, made up of interested citizens, each provide $100 a month for the grants.
Successful applicants to the Uncharted Journalism Fund get the money without strings—there are no reporting requirements, unlike a grant. They do invite the successful applicant to return in three months to tell the Uncharted Fund what they used the money for.
There are currently seven trustees on the board, as well as non-trustee financial contributors. Part of the process of developing Uncharted was figuring out what kind of projects they wanted to fund. Smith said they had to ask themselves, “what is an act of journalism? And what would innovation or experimentation in that area look like?”
Applicants don’t have to be journalists—it can be anyone, as long as they have an innovative storytelling idea. The person or group can also be from BC, or be telling a story that concerns BC.
The hope is that trustees may themselves end up getting involved in some of the winning projects, as they have at the Awesome Foundation. “What will be on offer, in addition to the small amount of funding, is the knowledge and network that the trustees bring to this.”
The first round of applications are due Oct. 28. So far, Smith has received about 12 applications—he’d definitely like more.
“We are going to try and get through one round to see how that works,” Smith said. However, he believes that the model would “absolutely” be replicable.
“If it really works then hell yeah, steal the idea and steal the branding and set up your own chapter and run with it,” he added. “I would say that’s a pretty long term aspirational picture as opposed to something that’s on our radar in the short term.”