Local media outlet enters its terrible twos

More than 80 people packed into the Bus Stop Theater on Gottingen Street this weekend to wish the Halifax Media Cooperative a happy birthday. The organization celebrated its second year reporting on local and grassroots news stories in the city.

Moira Peters, member of the Halifax Media Co-ops editorial collective, cuts the Co-ops birthday cake.

By Justin Ling

More than 80 people packed into the Bus Stop Theater on  Gottingen Street this weekend to wish the Halifax Media Cooperative a happy birthday. The organization celebrated its second year reporting on local and grassroots news stories in the city.

Organizers passed out stickers, donation sheets and the group’s broadsheet newspaper, The Tide. Opening the March 5 event was Happy Feet Howe, a musician and author for the Media Co-op.

In between songs, Howe shared his own experience working with the small, independent news site. “It’s a great resource,” he said, looking into the audience. “You, guy with the beard. What issues bother you?”

Howe’s direct style is much in line with the Media Co-op. On one wall was a story list, where party attendees could write down stories they would like to see covered. Next to it was ‘Policy Corner’ featuring suggestions on how the Co-op should be governed.

Their website hosts a similar function, allowing anyone to suggest stories they think the Co-op should cover.

The evening continued with a slate of local musicians, broken up occasionally with pitches to participate in the silent auction and the “radical” jellybean count. The audience was seated around tea-lights in the black box theatre. They were encouraged to join in the copy editing competition, which MC and Media Co-op editor Ben Sichel called the “most exciting part of the evening.” Vegan, gluten-free cake was also served, as the self described radical feminist band, Sock Foot, sang happy birthday.

“It was great to see so many people come out to support and celebrate the work of the Halifax Media Co-op over the last two years,” said Hillary Lindsay, a member of the editorial collective.

The very fact that a news outlet needed to hold a fundraiser is unique. The majority of  the Media Co-op’s revenue is made through monthly contributions by readers. The limited advertising that the Cooperative does receive is largely from labour unions and Canadian authors.

The journalism works much the same way – anyone can submit to the website, and most of the journalists work on a volunteer basis. For Howe, that’s part of the magic. “When I go to the meetings, it’s like hanging out with friends,” he said. “There’s cookies, and they let me bring my dog.”

The state of affairs in Canada – and Nova Scotia – shows the need for an independent, reader-driver media, said Lindsay. Considering that the province is dominated largely by the Chronicle Herald and the internationally-owned Metro,it is a David and Goliath battle.

The Media Co-op also garnered support from other alternative media in the city, as the site and Dalhousie radio station CKDU often share audio clips. Author for The Coast, Chris Benjamin, not only attended the party, but donated a book to the silent auction.

According to Lindsay, the lack of competition means that the news media are getting lazy, producing little-to-no investigative journalism.

In recent years, small, online-based startup media outlets have sought to fill the void. Business-oriented AllNovaScotia.com and the Media Co-op have taken on similar roles, with radically different measures; the former opting for a prohibitive paywall and the latter relying on a donation model.

The Halifax Media Cooperative is part of a national network, with locals in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The national Co-op also publishes The Dominion newspaper.