The Tyee is the recipient of this year’s Bill Good Award, announced today by the Jack Webster Foundation. The prize “honours a B.C. individual or organization that makes a significant contribution to journalism in the province, or addresses a community’s needs and benefits via journalism.”
The recognition, which cannot be applied for, is bestowed by the Webster Foundation’s board of directors.
In making their choice, the board said The Tyee “has over the past two decades, despite formidable challenges and the skepticism of many in the media, become a leading source of daily news, opinion, culture and investigative journalism. With thousands of readers across B.C. and beyond our borders, it contributes to the public dialogue on many issues.”
“This is so great! We are thrilled,” said Tyee founding editor David Beers. “It’s a credit to all the talented, hard-working folks who have poured their efforts into the organization and still do. And of course, we owe everything to our loyal readers.”
The Tyee’s future has never looked brighter, Beers said, noting that the publication is on track to become a non-profit later this year.
The Tyee’s audience, budget and staffing have all grown significantly over the past three years, reaching highest-ever levels. As the Webster Foundation noted: “The Tyee has grown to an average of 1 million page views per month by 700,000 unique visitors. In the last year, nearly 1,500 original stories were published on the website. It has 70,000 subscribers, 67,000 Twitter followers, 26,000 Facebook friends, and 8,500 Instagram followers. In 2020, over 6,500 people supported the Tyee with a financial contribution through the Tyee Builders program.”
“The Tyee is here and thriving today, two decades on, thanks to the thousands of writers, readers and supporters who believed in it,” said editor-in-chief Robyn Smith. “The Tyee went from a crazy dream to a massive success story for journalism in Canada and a model for many other publications to come, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.”
A model that stresses creativity and diversity
From the beginning, the goal was to create a work culture for journalists that allowed them to do their best work, said Smith, who started at The Tyee as a practicum student.
“As a Tyee reporter,” said staff member Christopher Cheung, “it’s so fulfilling to wake up every day and have the time to build relationships, the space to explore big ideas and the freedom to indulge in special projects — whether it be mapping the COVID inequality that health officials didn’t share with us or visiting a fried chicken restaurant in the middle of a heat wave.
“I started at The Tyee as an intern in 2015. I remember being surprised to learn that it had already been around for 12 years. Older than names like BuzzFeed and even Facebook? A lot of people in media are still trying to figure out the secret sauce to surviving the 21st century online, sometimes distracted by expensive fads like ‘pivot to video.’ I’m proud that we’ve kept a sharp focus on delivering the quality journalism that is increasingly hard to find. And more and more people are reading us. I used to call people who’d respond, ‘What’s a Tyee?’ I'm happy to say those days are disappearing.”
Says long-time Tyee reporter Katie Hyslop: “The Tyee was not only my first job out of journalism school; it was also my dream job. There are very few news outlets that encourage journalists to develop reporting beats with a social justice lens. Strong storytelling is valued here above social media clicks, as is a good employee work/life balance. I can’t think of a more rewarding place to do journalism in Canada.”
“The Tyee’s beat reporters, columnists and contributors cover key issues of our times through a progressive, solutions-focused lens,” says the Webster Foundation. “Tyee journalists take care to ensure representation of diverse voices, both in terms of sources quoted in stories and bylines of authors published.”
Scrappy origins, committed stewards
The Tyee was launched at the end of 2003 in the early days of online journalism, before the advent of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and wireless devices. In its scrappy youth, it broke a key story dominating the 2005 provincial election, launched the 100-Mile Diet that would become a worldwide phenomenon, and pioneered reader-supported solutions reporting.
The Tyee published a 15-year retrospective of its biggest moments in 2018, which you can find here. Since then, The Tyee has deepened and broadened its coverage while maintaining a primary focus on British Columbia.
In 2015, the New Yorker called The Tyee “a fascinating case study” in how to fund and publish substantive public interest journalism in the internet era. The Tyee’s approach, as legacy media grapples with declining ad revenues, debt and high overhead, has been to run a lean operation mixing money from angel investors with reader contributions, without erecting a paywall.
The New Yorker found that to be “a welcome departure from the traditional web business model” six years ago — but The Tyee’s approach is increasingly common across North America, notes Beers, who has documented that B.C. is a hotbed of similar journalism models.
The Tyee was started with venture capital from a labour-affiliated equity fund, which stepped away in 2018. Since then, The Tyee’s sole investor has been the duo of Eric Peterson and Christina Munck, B.C. residents who founded and support the Tula Foundation, Hakai Institute and Hakai Magazine.
“Christina Munck and I have supported The Tyee since its early days — almost since its inception,” said Peterson when the Good Award was announced. “We’ve always believed in the value of independent journalism, particularly journalism with a local/regional focus. We trust in the dedicated professional staff of The Tyee to chase down important and engaging stories, and to serve the public interest as they see it. We are gratified and motivated by the growing support The Tyee receives from readers and builders. We endorse the goal of having The Tyee become a non-profit, a long-term asset for the community. We hope that this significant award will provide an added push toward that goal.”
A reader-driven success story
From early days, The Tyee has depended on reader contributions to thrive, and its reader “Builder” program remains the key pillar of its revenue model.
That support has allowed The Tyee to pay experienced and emerging journalists to carry out in-depth investigations and solutions-focused reporting, including hundreds of articles exploring the roots of the region’s affordable housing crisis and how to fix it.
One of The Tyee’s earliest hires is legislative bureau chief Andrew MacLeod, who came aboard in 2007. “It's great to see The Tyee and the role it plays in B.C.'s media ecosystem recognized,” he says. “Over the past 18 years readers and others in our community have made it abundantly clear that The Tyee is not just viable but also desperately needed.”
While the site has won many national and regional awards over the years, the Bill Good Award is distinct and particularly appreciated, said publisher Jeanette Ageson, because it acknowledges the risk and tenacity that goes with striving to create a sustainable journalism alternative.
“It hasn’t always been easy sustaining and growing our independent newsroom. It’s only been possible because of our small team of committed, talented, kind individuals, backed by the amazing support of our stewards and thousands of Tyee Builders.”
Associate editor Olamide Olaniyan described life inside today’s Tyee this way: “Every day for nearly three years, I’ve been blessed to watch my colleagues turn out incredible reporting, bolstered by principles of honesty and fairness and an unrelenting commitment to the truth. Working at The Tyee has been a source of awe and inspiration for me.”
He summed up the views of his colleagues in saying, “I am grateful to the Jack Webster Foundation for recognizing and underlining their valuable contributions to journalism and society and hope this award encourages more people to give our feisty magazine a try. Congratulations to the team!”
Meet the previous recipients of the Bill Good Award and read what the Webster Foundation says about The Tyee here.
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