After many months of preparation and hard work, a new online newspaper called YegNews.com is set to launch tomorrow, providing Edmontonians with a new option for local news. Alain Saffel, a former journalist and active member of the local social media scene, and Scott McKeen, former columnist for the Edmonton Journal, are the duo behind the new site, and about a month ago they sat down with me to talk about the new project.
“We want to increase the amount of local reporting,” Scott told me. Both men firmly believe that good journalism is important to communities, so increasing the amount of reporting that takes place in Edmonton is a key goal for the new site. While the focus initially will be on Edmonton, the hope is that the site will be regional in nature, covering the capital region. “We want to do a service for the city,” Scott said.
Noting that Scott used to work for the Journal and that a number of people have either left or been let go from that organization recently, I asked who would be writing for the site. “We want to create a community of journalists, to mentor and train them,” Scott replied. The hope is to attract a mix of experienced and fresh writers. Both Alain and Scott will be contributing regularly to the site, and there are at least nine other people ready to contribute content including Jenn Parks (formerly with the Edmonton Sun), Dave Clark (former editor of the Sherwood Park News), Sarah Hoyles (formerly of CBC), and John Korobanik (formerly with the Edmonton Journal). While the writing style will be “accessible”, it won’t be constrained within some of the boxes of the mainstream. “We’ll focus on print and photos, but we we really want to stress creativity in the styles of presentation,” Alain said, suggesting lists, infographics, and other visual elements will be common. Contributors will be encouraged to learn from one another.
Initial topics that will be covered on YegNews.com include City Hall, local business, and technology, areas that Alain and Scott feel are underserved at the moment. “Technology is what’s going to sustain Alberta over the long-term, and I haven’t seen much coverage of it in the three years I’ve been here,” Alain said. Some crime issues will be covered in columns, but it likely won’t be a focus. There will also be a certain amount of service journalism, perhaps making use of open data provided by the City. “People want to know when their sidewalk is going to be fixed,” Scott told me. While the site won’t be making use of any wire stories, Alain said they would consider using local blogs to augment original content, as long as they are Edmonton-related.
The project has been self-funded thus far. “It’s cheaper than ever to start something,” Alain said. They’re using WordPress to power the new site, and will be making use of Flickr, YouTube, and other free/inexpensive services to host multimedia. Given the small budget, social media will be a key focus for driving interest in and traffic to the site. “There are lots of people on Facebook in Edmonton, so we’re going to try to reach people that way,” Alain said. Readers will be encouraged to participate by submitting tips and story ideas, and the site will feature comments. “We want the comments to rise above,” Alain told me, saying they would be enforcing some accountability. A longer-term ambition is to have an ombudsman for the site.
The revenue model is for the site to be supported by advertising. “This is going to pay the bills,” Scott told me, noting that both he and Alain are committed to making the project work. While the site will feature some Google ads, the goal is to have mostly local advertising. “We want the living local ethic to be a driving philosophy,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of benefits to spending your money at local independents.” Contributors are volunteering initially, but as soon as it is financially possible, they’ll will be part of a profit sharing program. “We want to reinvest the earnings back into journalism,” Alain said.
YegNews.com is an ambitious project. The message on their splash page right now reads: “Edmonton’s online newspaper providing Edmontonians with original, interesting & informative breaking news, politics, opinions & more.” It’s exactly the kind of experimentation I’d like to see more of. West Edmonton Local is still going strong and I think it has shown that there’s room for more local voices and reporting, at least at the hyperlocal level. And GIG CITY seems to be doing okay focused on arts and entertainment. It’ll be interesting to see how YegNews.com fares with a wider focus.
Congratulations to Alain and Scott on making it this far! I can’t wait to check out the site tomorrow and I look forward to seeing YegNews.com evolve over time.