The Winnipeg Free Press in Canada is taking a new approach to religion coverage. In spring 2019, it launched a yearlong pilot project through which the city’s faith groups help fund additional religious coverage.
As editor Paul Samyn wrote in an announcement about the initiative, “The offer was simple: if you value faith coverage in your newspaper and you want to see more — help us do more.”
And they did. Initial fundraising efforts with these groups resulted in $30,000 to support additional freelance writing from two regular religion contributors, as well as other writers. While the funds supported additional faith reporting, they did not come with a mandate about what kind of stories would come out of it. As Samyn pointed out, the freedom of religion and freedom of the press are important rights in Canada.
“Those are rights to cherish,” he wrote. “But this partnership does more than simply cherish, as it will help sustain both.”
Publisher Bob Cox sees this pilot as a way to not only help make the Free Press sustainable but also form a deep partnership with community members.
Cox said it was “natural to reach out to the faith community to ask if they could help us report better and more often on faith issues.” He added, “newspapers must be in partnership with their communities if they are to have a future. Efforts such as this one are just an evolution of that partnership.”
The Free Press faith pilot is viewed by leadership as a testing ground for future coverage areas.
In an article for J-Source.ca, Free Press religion reporter John Longhurst outlined how the project works.
- Stories about religion aren’t confined to the Saturday faith page; they can be found throughout the newspaper. The Free Press is also committed to running more advance stories about community events.
- Since the coverage is paid for through support from the faith community, articles are not behind the paywall.
- The Free Press also added a faith link on its home page, making faith articles easier to find.
- The supporting groups are acknowledged online and in print.
- Supporting groups are invited to be part of an advisory committee, which will meet twice a year to provide feedback and story ideas. They also get a monthly newsletter to keep them up to date with what’s happening with the coverage.
- In addition to providing story ideas, supporting groups are asked to promote faith coverage in their communities through social media, internal newsletters and other ways to attract more readers to the Free Press website.
In June 2019, the paper published 25 religion stories—more than double what it previously averaged.