COVID-19 is killing local news when we need it most

The Discourse Cowichan is expanding its coverage to fill the gap in local news created by COVID-19. We need your help to make this possible.

If there’s one thing that this pandemic has brought into focus for me, it’s the critical importance of healthy local news. In the context of COVID-19, local news saves lives — literally. Epidemiologists rely on local news to trace the spread of infectious disease. And all of us rely on our local news outlets to find out about the important public health measures that keep us safe.

But this pandemic has come for local newspapers, too. As people stay home, many local businesses have seen the majority of their revenues evaporate. That’s a major hit for news outlets that rely on advertising dollars. At least 50 community newspapers in Canada have shut down in the last six weeks. Here, the Cowichan Valley Citizen has reduced print editions from twice weekly to just weekly. Black Press, which owns the Citizen as well as the Lake Cowichan Gazette and Ladysmith Chemainus Chronicle, announced temporary layoffs across all of its B.C. papers

Here at The Discourse Cowichan, though, we’re not stepping back. In fact, we’re digging deeper. In the last six months, we’ve taken huge steps towards growing our audience and revenue. We’re not yet financially sustainable, but we can see the pathway to get there. And in light of COVID-19 and the clear need for real community journalism, we’re not waiting for financial stability to expand our coverage. 

We’ve decided to take a risk and expand our journalism because our community can’t wait until after COVID-19 for local news either. We know from past experience with our readers that if we rise to the challenge of providing the news you need right now, that you’ll rise to the challenge too. 

At The Discourse Cowichan, we’re bringing you stories about local COVID impacts that no one else is covering. Stories like:

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  • David Minkow’s reporting on how this crisis is impacting the most vulnerable in our society, including this piece on how people on the streets are coping.
  • This interview with the lead family doctor at the Cowichan District Hospital, on what’s really happening inside the hospital and why you shouldn’t be afraid to go see your doctor.
  • Ongoing coverage of the First Nations community, including this newsletter by Jared Qwustenuxun Williams, who checked in to find out how Cowichan Tribes elders are faring.

Meanwhile, the parent company of The Discourse Cowichan, in partnership with the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, is launching a sister outlet this week called IndigiNews. It’s starting in the Okanagan and will soon be hiring new reporters to cover Indigenous issues on Vancouver Island. We’ve heard from you that lifting up Indigenous voices is critical, and want to do a better job in Cowichan and well beyond. We look forward to collaborating with the new team and sharing more local stories about Indigenous education, health and child welfare with you.

For our community, thriving in the era of COVID-19 is about more than our personal health. With physical distancing, some people are struggling with social isolation. Many of our most vulnerable communities are disproportionately impacted. Businesses and nonprofits are facing huge challenges. Now, more than ever, we need to come together as a community to work together and support each other.

The Discourse Cowichan is committed to leaning in to these challenges, to helping our community through. That’s why we don’t only tell you what’s happening, we invite you to help. We focus not on what divides us, but on what brings us together. We tell community stories and we share valuable community resources. 

We’re taking a leap of faith right now and scaling up to serve you more. We’re growing our coverage and team to better represent Cowichan’s diverse communities. We want to learn from this pandemic, and emerge from it stronger than before.

Our leap of faith will only be sustainable with your help. We have the confidence to take this chance because you’ve supported us at key moments in the past. 

When we broke the story of the Cowichan Valley Citizen avoiding critical coverage of the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, you told us how much that coverage mattered to this community. With your support, we forged ahead, expanding The Discourse Cowichan from a short-term experiment in local news to a fully fledged community news outlet. And we stayed on top of the motorsport story; our ongoing coverage just earned a nomination for this year’s Digital Publishing Awards.

When we saw racist backlash in the community amid the Wet’suwet’en conflict this year, we asked for your support to bring on Indigenous writer Jared Qwustenuxun Williams to help build bridges of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Cowichan. You stepped up, more than we could have imagined, and we nearly doubled our fundraising goal.

We know how important our work is to you. It’s the only reason we do what we do.

You have the power to make The Discourse Cowichan an even more vital part of our community as we recover and grow from the challenges of COVID-19. Now is the time to say that this matters to you. With a monthly contribution, you can be part of an innovative, healthy, community-led ecosystem of local news. 

We understand this is a tough time financially for many. Any monthly contribution helps by providing us with the stable funding we need to sustain our work. And if you can’t contribute right now, we understand. You can also help us out by spreading the word. Send an email to 10 friends and let them know why you value The Discourse Cowichan. Remind them to subscribe to our newsletters.

Our news will always be free to everyone. But to make this work, we need those who can afford it, to contribute financially.

We’re all in this together. And at The Discourse Cowichan, we’re in it for the long haul. [end]

Thanks to Tricia Thomas and Salish Eye Productions for the physically distanced photo of The Discourse Cowichan team: Jacqueline Ronson, David Minkow and Jared Qwustenuxun Williams. 

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