The Plan

Spotlight Alberta is an online-only news site that will be supported by members and, potentially, non-partisan foundations.

Our mandate is to produce meaningful, deep journalism that goes beyond the breaking news cycle, free of political agenda and influence, and free to readers.

Why now?

I spent months on the business plan for Winnipeg First back in 2007. It was so complex and deep that it was hard for investors to understand.

It was also 2007 and the idea of a digital news stand-alone was pretty out there. There were many newsrooms pumping out content like factories, so we got a bit lost in the noise. But the media environment is very different in 2019.

Consolidation and contraction ripped newsrooms apart across Canada. Postmedia combining its broadsheet and tabloid newsrooms in January of 2016 sent 90 journalists to the curb, myself included. It also diluted the journalistic gene pool and homogenized criticism.

Canadaland’s outing of Postmedia’s forced conservatism created intense blowback. An anti-immigration op-ed ruffled and got pulled. Media watchers were aghast but not surprised.

CBC’s broad mandate to democratize its content across Canada is commendable but can be restrictive, as it is also bound by budget constraints and the whims of the current government.

This is where we come in. We promise to provide depth and context on the stories that impact Albertans and to deliver on that promise to members who support that vision.

We don’t answer to hedge fund managers, out-of-touch executives in Toronto or nervous accountants with sharp pencils. For us, it’s all about our members.

Revenue & Salaries

We are working on a hybrid model, somewhere between PBS and The Correspondent.

Memberships will be the primary source of revenue. We will not be selling ads or sponsored content. We will not be selling member data to third parties. In fact, we’ll only collect the data needed to deliver content to you and to collect and protect payment info. We will pursue foundation grants from non-partisan organizations and will disclose any and all grants when they are confirmed.

There will be no paywall. We want to democratize access to news. Investigative journalism serves democracy and it can only do so in an open-source-style platform. But we do need to be able to pay reporters well enough to attract them from other media outlets.

In order to launch with an editor and three reporters, we need 2,500 members at $10 per month.

TitleSalary
Editor/membership manager$50,000
Multimedia Reporter 1$50,000
Multimedia Reporter 2$50,000
Multimedia Reporter 3$50,000

How’s that for transparency?

On top of those salaries will be HR costs (taxes, benefits) and start-up costs (laptops, smartphones, marketing).

That’s the pay scale. I will build in salary increases over time current with industry standards. I’ll be making the same as the reporters at the launch.

Growth

The idea is to grow our editorial team as membership grows.

We’ll start by building an email newsletter base. The Facebook Journalism Project found it’s an efficient way to gauge membership interest and to keep subscribers apprised of progress along the way.

The rules for growing paid members, according to research done by The Membership Puzzle, are straightforward.

The cost per lead needs to be low enough to predict over a specific period of time. Revenue from leads that convert into members is likely to be higher than the marketing expense of acquiring all the leads. If that’s the case, one should keep investing and work to scale that investment until the formula no longer works.

In other words, we’ll continue to actively pursue new members until we hit the market cap. Once we do that, our work will shift to renewals/churn prevention.

Reinvestment

Proceeds from the first members will be reinvested in marketing to further grow the membership base. It is critical that we quickly get to our Level One milestone target so we can hire the first three reporters.

We will hire a new reporter with every additional 500 Standard memberships sold. All membership revenue will go back into the newsroom to add resources. We are not looking to create cash flow for a hedge fund, we are looking to provide meaningful, objective journalism and careers that journalists can be proud to call theirs.

Virtual office

We will be a virtual company until we hit 8,000 members and can staff up with a full complement of editors and reporters.

A lease on a brick and mortar space can be an expensive albatross, so we’ll avoid that until it becomes a necessity.

Coverage scope

At launch, we will be covering provincial politics, crime/courts and city hall in Edmonton. Our reporters will work in these beats to develop contacts and institutional knowledge to ensure a depth of reporting not readily available in a growing number of newsrooms.

As Edmonton is the provincial capital, it is the centre of the political universe for Albertans and decisions made here impact things like education and health care on the front lines.

Covering city hall full time is obvious. Going deep on crime and courts — beyond chasing scanner calls — will bring context to justice and street-entrenched issues impacting all cities. We’ll let everyone else chase the breaking news rabbit. We’ll go back and talk with the tortoise… She’s smart and she’s seen some things.

When we hit the Level Two target of 4,000 members, we’ll add two reporters in Calgary, covering cops/courts and council.

If we hit 8,000 members we’ll add a reporter in Lethbridge and a reporter in Red Deer.

Engagement

We will be using the Discuz comment platform at launch. All readers will be able to comment and send us story ideas.

We plan to utilize surveys to help select storylines, so members will have a direct impact on the flow of coverage.

We will provide an active platform for member interaction so you can get the most out of the site.

Transparency

I’ve always been a big believer in openness. This is more important than ever given how much pressure and spin can impact journalism in the new media world.

We will utilize special tools to illustrate sourcing while protecting whistleblowers. Each article will feature a synopsis of sourcing.

Inspiration

If you want to watch over my shoulder as I investigate best practices in digital journalism, here you go:

Become a member

If you are ready to support our work, become a member.

Starter Membership
$5 / Month
Standard Membership
$10 / Month
Booster Membership
$20 / Month
Builder Membership
$50 / Month

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