6 min read

Community News

In this post, I want to speak with you a little bit about what I have learned working in the news. This includes some details about the news business as well as news-craft. After discussing these things, I will speak a bit about what it is like to actually work in a news startup as an employee.

Biscuits for Chai was largely what motivated me to try out working in news. I once again found my love of writing as well and also rekindled dreams of completing a novel. Many great writers, from Ernest Hemingway to Malcolm Gladwell, have been news writers.

And so, with some help from my friend Aloysius, I got a job at The Green Line, a Toronto-based news agency. I have two roles at The Green Line. One, as a Business Development Fellow and two, as a News Innovation Fellow.

In this post, I want to speak with you a little bit about what I have learned working in the news. This includes some details about the news business as well as news-craft. After discussing these things, I will speak a bit about what it is like to actually work in a news startup as an employee.

I will start with the business.

The news business as actually many different businesses. You have companies like the Associated Press (AP) who have reporters all over the world. You can expect them to give un-opinionated, third-person, high-level coverage of any event. They deliver facts, and rarely have interviews or opinions in their reporting. While you and I can subscribe to the Associated Press, most of their revenue actually comes from selling their stories to other news companies like the CBC or BBC who do not have such an expansive network of reporters. These agencies often republish AP stories. But we will get to them soon. The AP of the finance sector is Bloomberg and the AP of Canada is the Canadian Press.

Next up, you have news companies like the CBC and the BBC. These guys do a lot of different things, but at the crux of their business is republishing AP/CP/Bloomberg stuff as well as supplementing these with other pieces that have interviews and some level of opinionatedness. They make their money using ad revenue, which is why the BBC tries really hard to get the distributing rights for very sought after events like the FIFA World Cup. A lot of these agencies are also supported by government funding. That being said, they also typically have other arms that provide different types of news and that may operate under different business models.

Next we have outlets like like The New York Times. These guys do investigative reporting and have opinionated pieces on current happenings. They make their money through a combination of ads and subscription services.

After this, we have outlets like the Atlantic. The Atlantic publishes once a month, and doesn't really concern itself with publishing extensively on the most recent developments. Instead, they try to follow stories over time, conduct many interviews, develop a strong opinion and perspective, and deliver what I like to call a news essay. They also rely on subscription funding and ad revenue.

Last up, we have community news outlets like The Green Line. Traditionally, community news used to be a staple in every community. Today, as events around the globe become more accessible, larger news agencies get to cherry pick between a hurricane in japan and a financial crisis somewhere in Europe. Because of this, community news is often overlooked and many outlets have failed because traditional subscription and advertising models haven't worked for them.

I was actually quite pessimistic about finance when I started working in BizDev at The Green Line. How were we supposed to get subscribers? Even now, after working at this outlet for a while, I don't think subscriptions alone are going to make our agency profitable.

Similarly, I don't think that advertising is going to do the trick either.  Does the seller of a particular product want to advertise it on a community news site or across Google,  Facebook,  and Spotify, or by using an influencer. And even if a community news outlet can get advertisers to work with them, will it get top dollar for leasing its virtual space out to them?

But community news has other avenues to make money. Firstly there are grants issued by the Government of Canada to help news agencies that cover areas which are overlooked by legacy outlets. This technically is a constitutional thing, at least that's what my boss says. There are also other private donors who may be willing to help out.

Secondly, a community news outlet can do news coverage for larger outlets. If the CBC, CityNews or Global News needs hyperlocal coverage, they can simply outsource the work to an appropriate community news outlet.

Thirdly, a community news outlet can host events and use the money from these events to support their journalism.

Fourthly, a community news outlet can provide their community with other services other than the news and community events. They can provides guides, informing citizens about how to do things like manage debt, access discounted mental health counselling or affordable groceries. Such information can sometimes be more valuable than the news to community members and may result in increased subscription to the outlet.

These are the four revenue streams I work on at The Green Line.

Now, let's move on to the news at the community level.

How does a news agency capture news? Well there are a couple of ways. One, people in the community call news agencies to tell them about what is going on in the community and the news outlet covers developments that it feels are important.

Two, another news agency covers a story in the community and the community news agency follows suit. Three, the news agency develops ties with various community leaders and groups, checking up with them regularly for developments. Four, the news agency can  scope and analyze public data to find potential issues or strengths to report on.

Five, and this one is my favourite, is to perform investigative journalism. Here is the most common way to do it. Take an issue that affects a larger area that your community is in and then see how that issue manifests in your community specifically. So, for example, recent hikes in the inflation rate has affected all Torontonians to some extent. A community reporter in Scarborough Southwest could look at what inflation hikes mean for residents of this area specifically, who are typically a bit poorer than Torontonians overall.

This is the type of reporting that we actually focus on at The Green Line. And I believe that while it can often times lead to a dead end, wherein a problem that affects Toronto as a whole manifests largely in the same way in any one of its neighbourhoods, there can sometimes be some nuance to be discovered.

Take, for instance, the issue of food insecurity in Riverside. After launching a month long investigation into how the issue manifests in the neighbourhood, we found that it didn't differ too much from how it manifested across Toronto.

However, from within this investigation we did unncover a few interesting leads. For one, we found a community initiative that claims to tackle food insecurity in the Toronto-Danforth area but seems to be misusing taxpayer dollars. While this is interesting, we actually don't intend to report on it because honestly, whatever funds they may be taking are probably not that significant in the grand scheme of things. Secondly, this type of reporting is very difficult because we are liable if we mischaracterize them.

This is actually a bit of a problem with news. If we don't cover stuff like this, it is very likely that it will never be investigated and just go on unnoticed.

We also found that Riverside has a large portion of Chinese speakers as well as a very large portion of residents with no knowledge of English or French. We do not know if it is the Chinese speakers who don't know English. We do not know if they are overrepresented amongst food insecure individuals. Public data isn't telling us this. This is the story that our outlet has chosen to pursue further. It is filling a knowledge gap that shouldn't exist in the first place.

Lastly, my personal lessons learned from the experience of working in news.


  1. People have a hard time talking about money, especially when they don't have enough. This even goes for my boss, who can have a hard time talking about tough financial decisions, even with me, the person she hired to talk about this with.
  2. Good enough is good enough. Honestly, there is a lot of work that you just do because it is a part of the job. No need to put up a Picasso painting if your boss isn't telling you that you need to do more and you don't feel like doing more. In biz dev, I do a lot of grant writing and emailing people asking for partnerships etc. It really isn't exciting. However, there are some assignments, like analyzing a market for whether we would succeed in entering it, or negotiating a contract for a joint venture with another news firm, that are actually quite fun.


  1. People on the front lines give the best stories. People who actually care give the best stories. Even if you have already gotten the facts from others, find the people who are on the front lines or who have a strong personal connection to an issue. They will inspire you and your reader. They make producing news worthwhile.
  2. Don't ask too many questions? Just let the interviewee talk. Set the direction of the conversation at the beginning and then just hit record on your voice recorder and let them go off. A good interview is basically a conversation in which you do a lot less of the talking. The quality of an interview isn't really a function of the quality of your pre-scripted questions. It is a function of the quality of your follow up questions.
  3. Get ready to find people who are doing shady things. Realize that you might not have the resources on hand to do something about it. And it might not be worthwhile to go out of your way to engage.