Overstory Media Group logo on top, photo of Farhan Mohamed bottom left, photo of Andrew Wilkinson bottom left, on white background
Overstory Media Group logo and photos of Farhan Mohamed and Andrew Wilkinson courtesy of Overstory Media Group

Overstory Media Group plans dozens of digital community news outlets in Canada

Co-founded by Farhan Mohamed and Andrew Wilkinson, the network plans to create 50 community outlets by 2023 Continue Reading Overstory Media Group plans dozens of digital community news outlets in Canada

A new independent Canadian media company focused on digital community news launched today with the goal of starting 50 community outlets and hiring 250 journalists by 2023.

Overstory Media Group has 10 B.C.-based publishers already on its roster, including Capital Daily, Vancouver Tech Journal, Fraser Valley Current, Burnaby Beacon and Decomplicated.

The group was founded by Farhan Mohamed, former editor-in-chief and co-owner of Daily Hive and Andrew Wilkinson, tech entrepreneur and co-founder of the Tiny Foundation, which invests in social justice, medical research, child protection and journalism projects. ( Tiny Capital, the for-profit company, of which Wilkinson is co-founder, has invested in the Logic and the Tiny Foundation invested $1 million in Canadaland last year).

Mohamed said the idea for OMG emerged when he and Wilkinson saw gaps in how local news was being delivered to readers. After leaving Daily Hive in 2020, Mohamed took a couple of months off and was finding it difficult to consume news and information through search, social media or websites.

“I miss days when you could get that newspaper delivered to your door,” he said. “And so we said ‘I think there’s a way for us to do local better, I think there’s a way for us to do community media better.’”

Mohamed said OMG focuses on high-quality reporting and community building in three types of communities: geographical (where people live); industry (where people work); and general interest. Currently, Mohamed said the company is looking at several other geographical markets, which he defined as communities such as an immediate neighbourhood, town or city, or an entire region. 

OMG will be launching its first geographical community site outside British Columbia in the coming weeks and currently has 19 job postings across Canada.  

He said the company looks at many different factors when deciding in which communities to launch, such as if there are legacy outlets operating there, if current outlets are too focused on advertising, if the community is underserved by its current media and if there are any journalists working there full time.

But ultimately, Mohamed said the company looks at if there are journalists in the community that want to run a community outlet.

“Everything we do, it’s for the community, by the community, and so it has to be something run by people that are living and working and playing in that community.”

OMG owns all of its brands and employs everyone on the team. Mohamed said the company works with a small number of advertising partners such as United Way, University of Victoria and Wealthsimple – what they refer to as community partners – for each of their publications. He said the company is also looking at memberships and paid subscriptions. 

Mohamed said the company will generally spend on average between $250,000 to $500,000 to launch in a new market, which includes hiring staff and paid digital ads to bring in readers and subscribers. The OMG head office includes a team of staff working in audience development, content development, partnerships, monetization, growth, design and development and marketing and communications. 

OMG provides resources and support in these areas to their publishers, who retain full editorial control over their work.

“It’s really seeing how we can take these brands and go from a new brand to an emerging brand and going from an emerging brand to a mature brand,” said Mohamed. “After that, our goal is making every brand sustainable so they can live on their own. But they all need that initial support.”

He said that one of the biggest things he’s been hearing lately from journalists is that they are “burnt out, overworked, underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated.”

“I’ve heard from way too many journalists who say the same thing over and over to me, which is they wish they could cover things but they don’t have the time to,” he said. “So my response was always, ‘What if you did have the time?’”

Mohamed said he realized he was “part of the problem” when looking at an old job description at Daily Hive which required employees to write 30 pieces of content every week. He said OMG is going in the “completely opposite direction.”

“We have to be deliberate with what we’re doing. We have to afford people the time and energy, give them the space and give them the resources,” he said. 

Capital Daily, a longform investigative news outlet based in Victoria, is OMG’s flagship publisher. Founded in 2019 by Wilkinson, the outlet specializes in explanatory investigative journalism in Victoria and around Vancouver Island and produces a daily Victoria news podcast, one of the few daily podcasts created by a non-legacy media outlet.

Jimmy Thomson, Capital Daily’s managing editor, said it’s been a “bloodbath” for local journalism in recent years, with many local papers getting bought up and sold, so he’s happy to see and be a part of an organization like OMG building new outlets.

“We gave enough general needs media, we have a lot of great newspapers, we have a lot of good broadcasters and a thriving online journalism community,” he said. “What we don’t have in Canada, and what’s been dying over the last couple of decades, is in-depth local journalism.”

He believes it’s crucial to have community-based investigative journalism outside of major city centres like Toronto.

“I don’t think that everything that happens in Toronto matters to the rest of Canada,” said Thomson. “We believe that the same level of scrutiny that every decision gets in Toronto, why shouldn’t that be reflected in the same level of coverage and consideration in other cities?”

Some of Capital Daily’s recent coverage has included a deep dive into the history of Sooke Harbour House, a hotel bought by a wanted U.S. fugitive, and an investigation into sexual assaults in Victoria’s bar and restaurant community, which sparked demonstrations in the city.

Thomson said Capital Daily has a robust and active readership, with readers writing to them several times a week and sharing its newsletter in their circles.

“We have built, kind of, advocates in the community … they’re pushing our stuff. They’re trying to convince other people to read everything,” he said. “That’s really, really exciting. It means that we’ve tapped into something and that people are really finding something valuable in what we’re doing.”

Thomson said that this type of local journalism can often have a big impact on people because “it’s right in front of you.”

“It’s happening in your backyard, it’s your local councillor, it’s your local business,” he said. “Not just something that might be happening in Ottawa, that might be happening in Saskatoon – it’s right there, in front of you.”

OMG’s job postings include managing editor and reporter teams in Richmond and Surrey B.C., Edmonton and Lethbridge, Alta., Saskatoon, Hamilton, Ottawa and Oakville and Burlington, Ont. 

Correction: This story was updated to correct that Tiny Capital, not the Tiny Foundation, invested in The Logic.