The Media Co-op's origins trace back to 2003 with the first publication of The Dominion Newspaper. It was published by a dedicated and collaborative group, with a lot of volunteer labour along the way. According to the paper's first editorial, "The Dominion aims for more than to report the news with a left wing spin, to counteract the sensibilities of the businessmen and advertisers who run the vast majority of Canadian papers. What we’re after is to understand: not just that something is the case, but why. Surprisingly little journalism takes this imperative seriously."
In 2007, The Dominion re-incorporated as a multi-stakeholder co-operative. Readers, editors, and contributors could all be members of this co-operative. It was a new approach to building a media organization. A 2008 cross-Canada tour built a lot of excitement, and membership grew. Relatively quickly, chapters sprang up in Halifax (2009), Vancouver (2009), Toronto (2010) and Montreal (2011) and together formed the network that was the new Dominion Newspaper Co-operative. The local chapters (named Halifax Media Co-op, Vancouver Media Co-op, etc.) published content online and also sometimes in print, and had their own editorial committees and a large degree of autonomy within the overall structure of the Co-op. The Dominion continued publishing, with contributions from the local chapters and original reporting. A significant amount of content was also published online at the Co-op's national site, mediacoop.ca.
For several years, the local co-ops and The Dominion put out a prolific amount of high-quality content, showing what was possible by publishing, as The Dominion's motto reads, "News from the grassroots." Oppressive mainstream narratives of all sorts were challenged -- from exposing the destruction of the the tar sands, to Canada's role in orchestrating a coup in Haiti, to toxic masculinity -- and we offered on-the-ground reporting focused on protest and resistance movements like those opposing the G20 summit in Toronto, the Vancouver Olympics, and fracking in Elsipogtog. In those years, thousands of articles were published.
Around 2014, a number of founders and long-timers, who had put in so many years of voluntary and underpaid labour, were stepping away. Tensions were running high between the city-based chapter operations and the national operations, based then in Montreal. The Media Co-op annual general meeting of 2014 was a tense affair. The direction of organization coming out of that meeting was unclear, and enormous expectations – stated and unstated – were placed on under-resourced staff.
Still, in 2015 a solid and timely issue of The Dominion was produced, 4 More Years of Austerity?. And in 2016, an incredible piece of work, The Dominion Special Issue on Indigenous Land Defence, Warrior Up!, was published, featuring all Indigenous contributors. At the same time, important stories continued to be published on Media Co-op websites, though at a slower pace than in previous years.
But by summer 2016, the organization was over $10,000 in debt. Both staff members had to be laid off, volunteer editors were becoming less active, and the board of directors had limited capacity to take on governance and administrative duties. Thankfully, some members were continuing to financially support the Co-op on an ongoing basis, and around a year later the debt was repaid.
At this time, the local chapters were becoming less and less active. In June 2016, the Halifax Media Co-op announced it was closing down. In the coming months, active membership in other chapters dwindled and chapter meetings went from infrequent to not happening at all. In February 2018, at the annual general meeting of the Media Co-op (common name for the Dominion Newspaper Co-operative) a motion was passed to declare all the chapters inactive. The websites were to stay up as an archive, but new content would be published through the national mediacoop.ca site.
There were suggestions to shut down the whole Media Co-op operation. It had been a good run, but was it time for the old to move aside and make way for new media projects?
In 2017 and 2018, the Co-op was rebuilding, finding new writers and editors, and bringing on new board members. This new cohort believed the Media Co-op continued to play an important role. On Indigenous rights struggles, activist movements, anti-imperialism, and more, our coverage was unique in the Canadian media landscape and, we believed, as needed as ever.
A big piece of work at this time was to redesign the outdated website, and move its decade and a half of archives to a new site. This process, requiring close management and a good measure of technical expertise, took much longer than planned. Years longer, in fact.
Even still, in 2019 and especially 2020, the pace of our publishing increased substantially. With at least five active editors and many more contributors, we put out important, timely, and thoughtful articles on a broad range of topics overlooked by the mainstream, corporate press.
The board of directors was the main organizing unit through this time, with all substantive questions discussed and decided by the board. Larger organizational questions and bylaw changes come to the wider membership for consideration at annual general meetings (AGMs). This structure and process is noticeably smaller and more contained than the Co-op was in the years leading up to 2014, when there was a much more active membership. Our hope is to continue building up an active publication at mediacoop.ca and also increase participation in the Co-op, realizing that the world, the media landscape, and this organization have changed over the years.
In 2021, we are thrilled to have launched a redesigned website. We continue looking for pitches from journalists – with any level of experience – and we have a modest budget to pay. The Media Co-op prides itself, and always has, on being for newer writers and media-makers to develop their skills and make an impact in the media world.
As we honour the past accomplishments of The Dominion and The Media Co-op, we look forward to connecting with readers as we report on the many injustices in this society, and, crucially, the movements that are fighting back and building a new world.