Indigenous newsroom in Canada nears 'total shutdown'

by June 6, 2017
 

WINNIPEG--Intercontinental Cry (IC), the only international indigenous newsroom in Canada, is hovering dangerously close to a total shutdown of its news operation.

According to IC founding editor John Ahni Schertow, the Winnipeg-based organization has
been unable to find enough funding to stay afloat.

"The sad truth is, there are almost no funding opportunities for indigenous organizations in Canada or the United States. " he says.

"Ever since Russell Diabo's essay on former Prime Minister Harper's 'termination plan' went viral, three days before Idle No More officially launched, we've been scrambling to stay online."

In 2014, the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS) intervened by offering to become IC's fiscal sponsor.

"That opened a lot of doors for us. And ever since then we've been working to hire some staff and move this unique organization toward sustainability. Unfortunately, for every door that opened, ten more have seemed to close."

Discussing the situation by email, CWIS Chair Rudoplh Ryser pointed out that only .003 percent of all foundation funds in North America ends up in the hands of Indigenous Peoples.

"We are all suffering from foundations turning away from indigenous peoples and choosing to 'cluster fund'."

Ryser went on to explain that large foundations restrict their funding to a core group of indigenous foundations who then hand out micro grants to indigenous organizations at their own discretion.

"Those micro grants average between $1k and $5K, the same amount of money that a single Canadian journalist can expect to get to cover the expenses for one piece of investigative journalism. No newsroom can survive on that," says Schertow.

For that reason, Schertow says that they have stayed clear of the 'usual' funding channels to pursue foundations that understand the importance of journalism and media diversity.

"We need to be able to be able to cover media blindspots and provide tactical investigative journalism for the world's Indigenous Peoples. That means we need access to the same level of funding that any other newsrooms enjoy.

"Unfortunately, that means we have to compete with the New York Times, the Guardian, Propublica and a thousand other newsrooms. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think indigenous media should get any special treatment, but it's a tough nut to crack. After three years of searching, we haven't even had one chance to present our full proposal.

In 2016, Schertow and his editorial board, which includes Cherokee Scholar Jeff Corntassel and the well-known Franco-Brazilian Scholar and Journalist Manuela Picq, decided to switch gears.

"It became clear that media funders weren't interested in helping us become a sustainable and fully-staffed newsroom, so we developed a series of core projects that would appeal to a wider range of foundations that don't prioritize support for diversity in media."

Most importantly, Intercontinental Cry came up with the Ká:nen School of Indigenous Journalism.

"As the world's first online indigenous journalism school, Ká:nen would provide a wide range of courses to help non-indigenous journalists produce more socially and culturally responsible reporting and let aspiring journalists in remote communities develop skills to produce their own journalism at home."

Other projects included the Indigenous Rights Journalism Partnership and the Indigenous Youth Culture and Language Exchange.

"Unfortunately, we got a familiar response. And now, I'm sorry to say, on the thirteenth anniversary of IC, we've reached the end of the rope."

Currently, Intercontinental Cry has enough funds to continue working until September 1, 2017.

"It's hard to say what's going to happen beyond that point," Schertow continues. "All I know is that I'm not prepared to shut IC down completely. There's far too much work left to do and I can't walk away from that in good conscience."

On June 15th, Schertow will be talking about Intercontinental Cry and the role of Indigenous journalism at the The Future of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Broadcasting: Conversation & Convergence in Ottawa.

"It may very well be my last public act as IC's only full-time staff member, but it will be a good talk in any case. I've learned a lot over the years. Indigenous media isn't a novelty that we can afford to dismiss. It is an essential part of the media ecosystem that we depend on to know and understand what's happening around us. "