We're deeply attached to our neighborhoods. Yet the things that happen in our backyards are seldom reported in the news (and we tend to yawn at the coverage that does exist). A new news organization intends to change that. It's called Open File, and I recently had a conversation with founding editor and CEO, Wilf Dinnick. (Wilf is a New Radical -- that is, people who put skills acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges. For more, please see archived New Radicals articles.)
This is an edited version of that interview.
What's the big idea behind Open File?
I've had a great career as a journalist for ABC News, CNN and the three major Canadian networks. Like many journalists, I saw that big, traditional media companies didn't know how to harness the power of the web. My wife (Sonia Verma, founding editor) and I wanted to create an online news model that hadn't been done. We wanted it to be run by journalists, based on the most important journalistic principles, such as transparency and accountability. We wanted it to be collaborative -- that is, stories are suggested by readers and readers contribute to them. And we wanted it to be about local news.
How local is local?
Very. We're based in Toronto. This week, the big story was the expropriation of several houses to make way for a new subway exit. We also covered the G20 demonstrations. If you think about it, every story that you see on national and international newscasts began in someone's home, or on a street in someone's neighborhood.
OK, so how does Open File work?
A reader will pitch an idea -- it often begins with a question like, "What's that building going up across the street from my kid's school?" This reader opens a file and submits the story idea, along with any supporting material, like photos and videos. Next, the story gets editorial and peer approval. If it's approved, a reporter gets assigned (we have a team of paid journalists). The reporter stands on the shoulders of all the information we've received, does some research, and provides a balanced, thoughtful piece. Once the story is filed, it goes public. Readers can respond, and continue to contribute to it, because the stories live on on the site - they don't disappear after a day. It's an ongoing dialogue. (Check out Open File to see how the G20 story is evolving.)
What's the business model?
We told potential investors, we're an Internet start-up and we're going to be ad revenue based, which shut a lot of doors! But we persevered and found someone who believed in Open File. We raised three years of funding. And we're beginning to sign up advertisers who are looking for alternatives to the diminishing returns of the big media buy and who want access to a specific neighborhood. We're talking exclusive deals with a big bank, a soft drink company, and a major department store.
And where do you go from here?
It took us a couple of years to develop the idea and six months to raise the capital to do it (Open File founders worked with MaRS, a business incubator and innovation hub in the heart of Toronto). We've created what we see as a turnkey model -- something that others can run in their communities. Major cities, of course, but small towns, too. The framework and value proposition are there, and the metrics are growing. We think that lots of people want to have a vibrant conversation about what's going on in their community.
OK, readers, now it's your turn. Would you like to see more community coverage, and participate in it, too? And have you checked out HuffPost's city coverage? Share your thoughts by commenting below, or write to me directly: email@example.com
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Julia Moulden is an author, speaker, and columnist. Her new book will be published in 2011. She's just getting her feet wet with twitter -- you might like to follow her!
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