Quite often you’ll get a young reporter in your newsroom and they come out of school wanting to change the world – you know, things like: Fight poverty, help the homeless and feed the hungry, maybe even write a ‘take down’ story where you cause some sort of political or institutional upheaval. All admirable goals as a journalist – but a huge undertaking that happens over an entire career.
A conversation I had one day with journalist and friend Morgan Modjeski was summed up like this:
“Morgan, journalists often come out of school wanting to change the world. The story you did today helped a neighbourhood’s voice be heard and you forced the city to pause and rethink what they did. To me, that’s changing the world.”
That’s community journalism. And that’s our goal.
Here’s how we got to where we are today and why we’re passionate about it.
Back in 2000, LiveWire founder Darren Krause landed his first newspaper job. Without a college degree and only a couple of writing credits to his name, he talked his way into a reporting position in the two-person Vulcan Advocate newsroom – a newsroom where he later became editor.
Vulcan’s a tight-knit rural southern Alberta town of roughly 2,000 and it was impressed upon Darren from the start that community reporting was the very foundation of the Advocate’s existence. While it was some town and county council reporting, along with some local crime stories, it was more about the largest squash grown in Milo, Lomond’s fall fair, community heroes like Barb Wade, weekend Midget AAA hockey games, high school sports and high school graduations – complete with valedictory addresses and everyone’s picture.
The beauty of reporting in a small community is that citizens relied on you to not only inform them, but to document their personal victories and their heart breaks. You lived with these people, socialized with them at the volunteer firefighters’ Firemen’s ball or the weekend watering hole, you participated in their mock emergency responder drills in the bitter cold (hung over and upside down in a car wedged between two grain silos) and you spoke frankly with them about gravel roads that lacked the proper dust abatement.
It was painfully long hours and scant pay, but the connection to the community was priceless. You were more recognizable than the town’s mayor because you were apart of their lives and their kids lives. Daily.
When Darren left in 2003, community storytelling was embedded in his DNA.
Brodie Thomas landed his first newspaper gig in Inuvik, Northwest Territories in 2008. The tiny town with North America’s northernmost street light attracted lots of celebrities and visitors on interesting journeys. But the paper’s editor had a rule: No stories about tourists. Everything had to be about the people in the communities the paper covered.
What at first seemed like an unfair obstacle soon became the driving philosophy in his writing. Everyday he was getting out and talking to people about their day-to-day lives in the Arctic: How they were keeping traditions alive while dealing with modern life.
The community-first philosophy led to success when he settled down in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland to report for and eventually run The Gulf News – a community paper with a circulation of about 2,000.
In an area with a population of only about 6,000 people, there was never a shortage of stories to be told. During his time on Newfoundland’s Southwest coast, Brodie traced the family roots of tropical rocker Jimmy Buffett to the area, and exposed how federal ferries had been quietly sold for scrap and dismantled in India.
At one point, he waged a battle with the local town council over the right to bring a recorder to public meetings – and won.
But the best part was just helping to tell the stories of people in the area: Their fight with the government to get a new bridge, their memories of the old days of the fishery, and their dreams of building the local economy through tourism.
In 2018, both Brodie and Darren found themselves as casualties of a Metro Calgary reshuffling and rebranding to StarMetro. Darren had been the Managing Editor since 2008 and Brodie was hired as Calgary’s second in command in 2015.
Together they had helped shepherd Metro Calgary to its peak; the highest-ever readership, revenue and a coveted National Newspaper Award nomination – the first and only ever such nomination in the brand’s history. All built on the foundation of journalism focused on community stories no one was telling – it’s a philosophy we call FiBU: (Fi)-rst, (B)est, (U)nique.
Though out of work, the fire still burned in both to deliver daily news. In doing so, they went back to their roots: Community news reporting.
Most Calgary news media has seen the chopping block numerous times over the past decade. Each time there are cuts it pulls the coverage further away from the people it serves and focuses on high-level content that’s void of community connection.
That’s the void we intend to fill.
There’s a gap in strong community news reporting. Maybe more so than ever. People yearn to reconnect with their neighbourhoods and each other to build a better city.
Those stories that stitched together the fabric of small communities in rural Alberta, NWT and Newfoundland resonate with citizens in larger cities. We’ve just gotten away from telling them. Not anymore.
We recognize the uphill battle in today’s media landscape, but we’re eager to tackle it head on, story by story.
There will come a watershed moment in daily news journalism, and we’ll be leading new media charge.
LiveWire Calgary – Run by journalists, for the community.
We want to hear the stories going on in your community.
For general contact, you can visit our Contact page.
Editor: Darren Krause – firstname.lastname@example.org
Journalist: Brodie Thomas – email@example.com