If you’re a regular around these parts, you may have noticed that The Tyee got a bit of a facelift this week. That’s not all that’s changed, though. The new look of The Tyee today (which we’ll talk about in a bit) signals a much more significant transformation. We are pleased to announce we are now a non-profit organization.
We have made the transition for these reasons:
The Tyee exists to serve the public interest, not to make a profit for any owner.
That has always been the case, from the time of its launch in 2003. In order to get The Tyee off the ground quickly and nimbly, its original backers constructed the publication as a for-profit. They were under no illusions. Using funds earmarked for socially responsible investment derived from a labour-affiliated equity fund, they understood that if you wanted to make money you wouldn’t start an online-only news source aimed mainly at British Columbians.
There was no business model or even clear means of revenue for such an enterprise. But at the time the province’s news media was dominated by one conservative media corporation and The Tyee was established as an experiment in diversifying voices and perspectives in a constrained market.
As expected, The Tyee has never made a profit. The Tyee has employed dozens of journalists over the years and published hundreds more, and it has always paid its bills. But every dollar that has come in has gone into more journalism, and investors have taken a loss every year in service of their ideals.
In 2018, the previous majority investors stepped away and Eric Peterson and Christina Munck took over the responsibility — with a goal that all at The Tyee eagerly embraced. The aim was to become a non-profit. Their financial support, strategic acumen and generosity have proven critical to the transition. As has the support of Tyee readers who have more than tripled individual financial contributions over that time. On Jan. 1, 2022, The Tyee officially ceased being a for-profit company and commenced as a non-profit society — the newly minted Tyee Independent Media Society.
We have a committed group of founding directors leading us. Please join us in welcoming Peter Klein, Michelle Hoar, Melody Ma and Deblekha Guin as the board of directors that will oversee governance for the new non-profit.
The Tyee’s model now reflects not only its purpose but its commitment to all British Columbians.
If you’ve read this far you know our business history was not only complex but potentially easily misunderstood. Our new non-profit status makes it plain and simple that we do not exist to enrich any owner. We won’t be bought or sold or merged. We will spend every dollar on more and better journalism. We are formally structured to be beholden to a volunteer board of directors and you, our readers and supporters. We will be transparent about our revenue sources and how we spend our money. We are, in short, the model of journalistic independence in the public interest. And we aren’t going anywhere. We exist to serve the people of this place first and foremost. We are here for you.
The Tyee’s non-profit status is a key step towards enabling some charitable funding.
In 2019, Canada’s government, recognizing the crisis of eroding financial support for journalism, changed laws to allow journalistic organizations, under certain circumstances, to qualify for “qualified donee” status. Such organizations must meet a number of criteria regarding transparency, standards and revenue sources. And they must be non-profit. Being a qualified donee is not the same as being a charitable non-profit and in fact The Tyee is not a charitable non-profit, nor does it seek to be one. Charities are restricted in how they can do journalism in ways that a journalism-focused qualified donee is not.
If that seems complicated, you have a sense why this step will take a while to complete. For now, The Tyee will not yet issue charitable tax receipts to our Builders who support us financially. But we are working on it, and our valued supporters will be the first we tell when we achieve that status.
Now, about the new look.
When we decided to formally change to a non-profit it sparked a further conversation in house about how The Tyee presents itself. Nearly 20 years ago, we chose a name that held special resonance in this part of the world long before colonizers called it British Columbia. Tyee means chief or a person or thing of superior qualities in the Nuu-chah-nulth language and was part of Chinook Wawa, a hybrid language drawn from various languages spoken by Indigenous Peoples in the region and used by them for trade around the Salish Sea and beyond. Upon the arrival of Europeans to these parts, many learned Chinook Wawa and spoke it with Indigenous inhabitants.
Eventually the word Tyee also became associated with a wild salmon of superior qualities — a wild Chinook or spring salmon over 30 pounds. That’s the image we chose for our logo right from the beginning. We retain a fondness for the feisty fish (and we’re keeping it as our team mascot). However, we respect that the word meant so much more to the people who created it and so we think it’s time to end this fish run at the top of our pages. It will also stop confusing people who think we’re a trade publication for a fishing lodge. We remain mindful of the privilege of borrowing that venerable word for our site and pledge to honour its original meaning by producing journalism of superior quality.
To create the logo and refreshed look you see today, we worked with the brilliant team at Rethink. Go ahead! Tell us how you feel about it. And as we make the switch, if you see any bugs please let us know by sending a note to editor [at] thetyee [dot] ca, telling us what device and browser you are using.
Does this mean a major change in what The Tyee publishes? In a word, no. We remain the same team of people working every day on the same goal: publish high-quality, in-depth journalism that enlivens the democratic conversation. These changes to our look and corporate structure are meant to better fit what we’ve already been doing.
To our readers and supporters: thank you for being on this journey with us and stepping up to support independent media. We look forward to growing our newsroom and standing the test of time.
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