Vancouver Observer publisher Linda Solomon plans to expand her online news platform nationally in November.

Photo of the soon-to-be-launched National Observer website courtesy of Vancouver Observer

By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor

Vancouver Observer publisher Linda Solomon plans to expand her online news platform nationally.

Solomon said the new journalistic venture, called the National Observer, will tentatively launch this November and expand on the Vancouver Observer’s award-winning brand. The Vancouver site has won the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Excellence in Journalism Award twice in the local media category.

J-Source: Give us the elevator pitch for the National Observer.

Linda Solomon: The National Observer will be a coast-to-coast digital journalistic organization focused on energy politics. We’re going to be building on the brand of the Vancouver Observer—independent, hard-hitting journalism with a special focus on energy and politics—but now we’re going to take that conversation nationally.

J-Source: Why expand?

LS: Our country has never had more oil and gas pipelines, fracking and fossil fuels on the go and at such a rapid pace. That side puts in such an enormous amount of money to tell their story. But where are the environmental voices, the ones presenting the other side of the story? I’m not saying other media are not covering these energy issues, but let’s look at it realistically—some 2,000 journalists have been laid off since 2012, according to the Canadian Association of Journalists. So what may look like an imbalance in the reporting of energy politics is really a lack of resources—whether that’s actual budgets to cover these stories or fewer numbers of political journalists. It’s really important to have someone fact-checking and verifying. We need more independent journalism and we need it now.

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J-source: Where are you going to add staff?

LS: We’ll start with a reporter in Toronto covering energy and then build our presence in Ottawa. We’ll also add some staff on the business side for sales and social media. 

J-Source: How are you going to finance the National Observer and what will it cost?

LS: We’re very serious about fundraising and we’re looking for investments and partners, crowdfounding and advertising. We need $100,000 to launch the National Observer. But to build it into a successful, sustainable media company, we need $500,000. That’s one of the things I’ve realized with publishing. You can just think about the journalism side of things and do a year of impactful journalism, but at the end of the year, you’re out of money. We don’t want to be in that position, so we need to build the National Observer to be sustainable.

J-Source: How will this expansion affect the Vancouver Observer?

LS: As we build the National Observer's energy politics coverage, I am looking forward to broadening the Vancouver Observer's deep local reporting. On VO, much of our advertisers want to talk to a Vancouver audience and reach deep into the city. So as we expand, you’ll see more arts and culture coverage, more municipal politics coverage, more great food writing. In other words, having a national publication will free up the Vancouver Observer to be even more local. Although our traffic recently has climbed to some 250,000 unique visitors in May, only about half of those live in Vancouver. That is still a small fraction of the two million people that inhabit the Greater Vancouver area, and we have so much more opportunity to cultivate right here at home.  

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.