A new crop of online publications is bringing fresh perspectives to the Maritimes.
They are part of the transformation of the media business, as established TV networks, newspapers and magazines lose their audience to more nimble, responsive and entertaining publications like the Huffington Post, Vice or Buzzfeed.
Click-bait headlines and listicles like “Nine Bunnies Who Can’t Get Enough Donuts” are both annoying and difficult to resist. Their effectiveness makes it impossible to deny the massive reach of a site like BuzzFeed. According to their site, BuzzFeed boasts 6 billion monthly global content views, 200 million monthly unique visitors to their main site and 18 offices with 1,300 employees around the world. It even has a coveted seat in the White House briefing room.
Of course, not every online publication has that kind of scale, or focuses on click-bait. Local stories in the Maritimes are clearly more niche than those covered by a behemoth like BuzzFeed, but new media publications are popping up here, spearheaded by people who see an opportunity to offer a platform for views not found in traditional media outlets.
Shauna Chase and Alex Vietinghoff are finding their own way to be heard. Chase and Vietinghoff operate a popular satirical news website called The Manatee where they tackle New Brunswick issues in a way they hope both entertains and makes readers think critically.
Stories like “New Brunswick population doubles after camo wearers counted” has earned the site a reputation for its sharp take on life in the picture province.
“I realized after searching the internet that we didn’t have anything like The Onion,” Chase said. “There’s a few Canadian or Canada-wise satirical sites but nothing focused on the Maritimes … I had the ideas but I didn’t know how to make them happen. (Vietinghoff) had the more practical skills needed to bring it to life.”
Vietinghoff says The Manatee makes people question the status quo in New Brunswick and take a second look at why things are the way they are.
“Obviously I love when people think it’s hilarious,” Vietinghoff said. “But I also really like that a lot of people tell us that they think we’re actually making a difference.”
With education and work backgrounds in journalism, Chase and Vietinghoff know how to present The Manatee as a site that takes itself as seriously as a news organization would.
“There’s a lot of support for movement-based media,” Vietinghoff said. “There’s the stereotypical ones that are meant to be unbiased reporting like CBC, CTV, any newspapers, but now there’s an upswing in media that specifically has a goal and they’re upfront about it … People like having these alternative media sources that are different from the mainstream that they’re used to.”
Chase and Vietinghoff recognize that not everyone will appreciate their humour or style. It’s a particular type of publication aimed at an audience interested in the way they address issues.
Maureen Googoo runs independent indigenous news website kukukwes.com. During her time working for traditional news outlets such as CBC, The Micmac News, The Chronicle-Herald and The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, she wasn’t able to do as much coverage of the aboriginal issues that interested her.
“It was always a struggle for me trying to get those stories approved because I was constantly coming into conflict with editors and producers who were always telling me that stories about aboriginal people would not appeal to a broader mainstream audience,” Googoo said.
Googoo decided to go independent so she could have the freedom to cover aboriginal issues in a deeper, more comprehensive way.
“With my own news website I figured I would be the boss. I would get to choose what stories I want to cover, what I think is important, what I think the audience here would find interesting.”
Googoo says she’s had strong support for her coverage in the aboriginal community. She has seen how invested members of the community are in issues that directly concern them.
“I think the audience here want that kind of context. They want somebody to put the issues that affect them into perspective in a way they can understand,” she said.
Matt Carter has noticed a similar demand for coverage in the arts and culture community in Fredericton. He came up with the idea for his online arts and culture publication Grid City Magazine through conversations about how difficult it was to get the word spread about local events.
Carter entered the arts and culture publication scene just as Here, a weekly arts and entertainment magazine owned by J.D. Irving’s Brunswick News, stopped printing. Carter took advantage of this gap in coverage.
“It’s really difficult for broad scope media organizations to cover everything,” Carter said. “With the availability and the ease of doing this kind of thing yourself now, it’s great that individual organizations, whether it’s in the arts and culture sector or small business sector or any kind of interest group, have a forum that they can easily create a community around.”
“Those kind of groups attract the people who are passionate about that whereas mainstream media serves a valuable purpose as well but it’s impossible for cutbacks and shrinking revenues to talk about everything.”
Carter says he’s interested in hearing unique views from New Brunswick residents rather than what has become mostly negative coverage of what’s happening in the province.
“It’s nice to introduce different voices into the broader picture,” he said. “If you only read the mainstream publications, it presents a relatively bleak picture of all the things that are happening in New Brunswick and that becomes our provincial brand”
“But if you look below the surface, there’s a lot of these smaller publications like what I do with Grid City or others that are tuning in on the things they think are positive about the province.”