Discover more from The Orchard
What's indie media's role in Canada?
PressProgress hosted a panel on this topic Tuesday
Last night, PressProgress hosted an online panel to discuss the role independent media plays in telling the stories that, running counter to the corporate-driven status quo, are excluded from mainstream discussion.
Moderated by PressProgress reporter Emily Leedham, the panel included Saima Desai, editor at Briarpatch magazine; Kevin Taghabon, co-founder of The Hoser; Mel Woods, associate editor at Xtra magazine; and Andre Goulet, executive director of Harbinger Media Network.
Each panelist spoke of the niche their outlet fills in the Canadian mediasphere, as well as the challenges they face in breaking through to a larger audience predisposed towards the mainstream press.
Based in Regina, Briarpatch has been around since the ‘70s and has evolved greatly from its origins as a local anti-poverty outlet. But running counter to the trend of national media being concentrated in Toronto and Vancouver, it remains true to its foundational mandate of social justice reporting from a Prairies perspective.
“Briatpatch has always, and continues to, pay close attention to the Prairies,” Desai said. “We refuse to concede to this idea that the Prairies are a conservative wasteland.”
While independent media is often dismissed as not having the same rigorous editorial standards as the mainstream press, Desai expressed pride in Briatpatch’s extensive fact-checking process, which involves several fact-checkers per story.
By contrast, Toronto-based Hoser is relatively new to the scene, having published its inaugural article about a year ago.
According to Taghabon, the outlet’s editorial team seeks to build “trust-based relationships” with various social movements that tend not to get a fair shake in mainstream news.
“When somebody starts to recognize you, and they know you’re a writer or journalist or documentarian or photographer, you get much better work and you get much more honest work,” Taghabon said. “The stories that get told are far closer to what people’s actual experiences are.”
Taghabon said he and co-founder Shannon Carranco sought to do the “diametric opposite” of common practice in the mainstream media, where reporters are expected to be wholly detached from the stories they cover.
Founded in 1984 to serve Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ population and its allies, Xtra serves a community that isn’t geographically bound.
According to Woods, Xtra exists to cover LGBTQ2S+ issues that go unreported or are reported on poorly. No issue is a greater example of the latter than the fight for trans rights.
“We have a lot of trans people on staff. It’s important to have a media organization that’s actually employing trans journalists to write about trans issues, because everybody else is doing it really, really badly,” they said. “When you’re from that community, you understand those issues. You know those people and you have trust with them.”
Up until recently, Xtra used to have local print editions in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, but the outlet’s limited resources weren’t enough to keep print editions afloat, and instead the publication broadened its focus to include LGBTQ2S+ issues in the United States.
But this pivot brought along its own share of issues in terms of keeping up with all the transphobic legislation in the States, Woods added, noting that covering these issues can take a toll on trans journalists.
For Goulet, the Harbinger Media Network exists to cultivate a community of like-minded podcasters who can expand the reach of each others’ work through cross-promotion.
Citing the financial logistics of running an indie podcast network as a challenge, he joked about establishing a “Harbingercoin” cryptocurrency, or a dating app for left-wing podcasters.
“All of the shows on the network pursue funding largely through Patreon and having their own communities of financial supporters. [But] most of the shows aren’t making much. [Editor’s note: can confirm.] It’s a passion project, it’s a labour of love,” Goulet said. “It’s a challenge but I think that’s natural for independent media.”
While he believes there is an audience for politically progressive podcasts in Canada, it’s difficult for journalists to break through mainstream gatekeeping, where nothing to the left of the CBC or Toronto Star is supposed to exist. In the meantime, it makes sense to build parallel institutions.
“My hope… is that [Harbinger Media] can build into a space where we not only reach broader audiences,” Goulet said. “But [more] importantly, [where] we can normalize the values that everyone on this panel shares … for a more just and progressive country.”
PressProgress’s Leedham, who also writes the ShiftWork newsletter (if you have any interest in labour reporting you must sign up for it), emphasized that while mainstream media does produce good work, it’s the role of indie media to build on that work and tie disparate threads together, in addition to covering stories that get completely shut out.
“It’s important to recognize that it’s all a big ecosystem,” she said, pointing to how PressProgress builds on scoops from the mainstream press, and mainstream outlets build on scoops from PressProgress. “There’s all this information exchange going on.”
(Disclosures: Leedham is an Orchard subscriber, and my podcasts, Big Shiny Takes and the Forgotten Corner, are Harbinger members.)
Edited by Ximena González