A new Canadian community media company officially launched Monday with aggressive plans to expand to 50 titles and 250 journalists by 2023.
Victoria-based Overstory Media Group (OMG) is led by CEO Farhan Mohamed, the former Daily Hive editor-in-chief and co-owner, and backed by technology entrepreneur Andrew Wilkinson, co-founder of the holding company Tiny, which owns a stable of about 30 technology companies with an estimated combined value of at least $600 million.
OMG already has 10 titles, with Victoria-focused news site Capital Daily serving as a cornerstone. “I’ve always loved the news and wanted to give back to my community of Victoria, so in 2019, I set out to recreate the local newspaper in digital form, by creating a simple daily newsletter focused on my hometown which today has nearly 50,000 subscribers,” said Wilkinson in a release. “Now through OMG, we get to help others create in their community.”
Other titles already part of OMG include Vancouver Tech Journal, Fraser Valley Current, Burnaby Beacon and Decomplicated.
Speaking with The Message, Mohamed said that OMG is being built around three distinct community verticals: geography (local news), industry (where people work) and interest. “That could be anything from ethnicity, religion, culture, fashion, food, arts, you name it,” he said.
The OMG model is to create the necessary back-office infrastructure—from legal to accounting and HR—to support its journalists, who are encouraged to seek out and share the best stories from the communities they cover.
“When I try to persuade talented journalists to join the Capital Daily team, I tell them, ‘This is the place where you can write the stories your editor won’t let you write,'” said Capital Daily managing editor Jimmy Thomson in the release. “OMG is encouraging us to think this way: we don’t chase the bouncing ball, we step back and ask how we can meaningfully add something to the conversation. That’s what journalists want to do, and it’s largely missing from the media landscape today.”
The name Overstory refers to a layer of forest vegetation, often a canopy of trees. “Much like our namesake, OMG is a creative ecosystem,” reads the OMG site. “Our philosophy is simple: strengthen communities and help people find common ground through high-quality storytelling.”
“The way that we approach everything is around community first,” said Mohamed. “It’s what else is going on around us outside of the news. It’s spotlighting people in organizations. It’s discovering new things. It’s uncovering stories of people in organizations around us.”
OMG believes that by supporting those community titles, and the journalists and creators behind them, it can fill a quality gap that arises from an over-reliance on non-professional digital and social media for content and information.
“They are held accountable to a higher standard. They have to do their job, they have to make sure it’s factually correct, it’s verified,” he said. “You don’t get that when you go on Twitter or you’ve got a Facebook group or whatever.”
People are still going to share information and consumer content from their social feeds, he said, “but when you want someone to turn to, you want something you know is completely valid, and there’s a level of trust there, you come to us.”
OMG will take a similar community-first approach when it comes to advertising, said Mohamed. “We only want to work with a small group of partners who believe not only in what we do but believe in their community that we serve.”
Rather than display advertising or sponsored content, OMG wants to work with marketers to develop more “unique concepts and unique experiences” that have greater meaning and resonance for the community supporting the media brand.
Simply selling eyeballs to brands that are irrelevant to the community upsets audiences and readers, has little value for the advertising brand, and is not a strategy for long-term sustainability, said Mohamed.
“What we are doing is making a conscious choice of who we want to work with, and only allowing a small select group in,” he said. “I don’t want to turn down money, but at the same time we will if it doesn’t make sense.”