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A Media Start-Up Claimed It Was the Future of Local News in Canada. Now It’s Firing Journalists.

Journalists question Overstory Media Group’s commitment to local news after gutting flagship Capital Daily’s newsroom

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Journalists are questioning a start-up media company’s commitment to local journalism after the company suddenly fired most of its staff at the Capital Daily, the company’s flagship local news outlet in Victoria, British Columbia.

Overstory Media Group, launched less than two years ago by a millionaire BC tech investor, presented itself as a saviour to the local news in Canada. OMG, led by co-founders Andrew Wilkinson and CEO Farhan Mohamed, set ambitious goals of hiring 250 journalists and starting 50 local news brands by 2023.

This week, OMG fired four Capital Daily journalists without cause, including its Managing Editor Jimmy Thomson, leaving only two staff members producing daily news at the publication.

Despite setting a goal of hiring 250 journalists by 2023, OMG now employs only 22 journalists across the country and 15 non-journalists, including managers, publishers and sales staff, according to its website.

 

Former Capital Daily Editor says outlet was a “template” for financially sustainable local media

Former Managing Editor Jimmy Thomson says Capital Daily was a financial success story and a template for how other OMG outlets would be built. Despite this, Thomson says it was a struggle to ensure in-depth reporting would remain the focus.

“What we were trying to do at Capital Daily was to really invest time in every story and deliver full in-depth news,” Thomson told PressProgress. “That’s expensive and it’s difficult and it’s hard to justify in a purely business sense, so we always felt like it was an uphill battle to stay on that track.”

“Capital Daily was the template,” Thomson said. “They just threw out the template.”

“I don’t know what their plan is now, what they’re going to base the growth of Burnaby Beacon on, or Fraser Valley Current or Calgary Citizen. Like, if it’s not Capital Daily, what is it?”

“I’m really disappointed,” Thomson added. “I know a lot of people in the city of Victoria are disappointed, especially seeing the talented reporters I worked with get fired alongside me, it’s heartbreaking.”

OMG CEO Farhan Mohamed did not respond to PressProgress’ request for comment.

 

OMG journalists unionize after firings

Remaining OMG journalists announced they had unionized with CWA Canada to form the Overstory Media Guild two days after the journalists at Capital Daily were fired. The union’s application has been submitted to the Canadian Industrial Labour Relations Board.

In a news release, CWA Canada said “the application is the culmination of a months-long campaign to organize workers located in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax.”

Ryan Hook, a union representative and current OMG employee, says it is unclear whether the Capital Daily staff firings were union related. OMG co-founder Andrew Wilkinson said on Twitter the firings were cost-saving cutbacks and not related to the union drive.

“The goal of the union was to create a more equitable workforce with more sustainable and consistent workplace practices and hold the OMG company up to their mission statement,” Hook told PressProgress.

“We all came in wide-eyed and bushy tailed with that hope and that dream that Farhan and Andrew Wilkinson had expressed in public and we still want that dream,” Hook said. “We see that that is a possibility, the point of the union is to help with that. If we didn’t want to be here, we would leave.”

“The people on Monday are a huge loss, of course, but the people that remain are also still abiding by that mandate and that dream that we hoped for,” Hook added. “The loss was exactly the thing we wanted to prevent by unionizing.”

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Another former OMG employee who requested to remain anonymous said Monday’s firings are indicative that OMG is divesting from its original mandate.

“They really talked themselves up about, you know, ‘we want to invest in journalists and give them the resources to do the investigative work.’ And at the same time, now they’re flipping it into listicles,” the former OMG employee told PressProgress.

“The larger implications are don’t trust tech bros,” the former employee said. “The market clearly does not support good journalism. You need a whole other model of supporting journalism where it’s not this hyper focus on ‘how can we squeeze money out of this?’”

 

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Emily Leedham
Reporter
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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