Reinvigorating Journalism & Building Community
How Farhan Mohamed and his team are working to strengthen our social fabric through Overstory Media Group.
Yeesh… over these past few years our sense of community has been challenged. Your perspective on any number of emerging issues can land you in hot water, or have other people look at you as part of the problem. I’ve seen people “unfriend” their peers on Facebook because they disagree. I’ve had people whisper their views to me with a sense of unease. I’ve heard stories of people being attacked for a misunderstanding or simple miscommunication.
At the same time, I’ve seen my community come together during the Fraser Valley Floods. I have witnessed overwhelming generosity during times of community hardship. On this very podcast, you can hear stories of people trying to save our oceans from contamination, individuals trying to revitalize Indigenous culture, and others trying protect our bee populations to ensure healthy ecosystems.
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We will never agree on everything, nor should we. You will never help someone see your perspective by unfriending them or distancing yourself from them. Our community is actually worse off if you take that approach. Local journalism has played an important role in helping build up our communities, and strengthen our social fabric. Journalists don’t just report on problems in our community, they also let you know what local events are going on and also highlight the amazing work of your neighbours.
Local journalism has been challenged over recent years though. A few years ago, I watched a Patriot Act interview with Hasan Minhaj about how the news industry was being destroyed. In his piece, he talks about how local news is vital, and how hedge funds have been buying up local news organizations and basically destroying them for profits. At the same time, many news organizations have struggled to pivot during the rise of the internet and online news.
Farhan Mohamed is my latest guest. He is the Co-founder and CEO of Overstory Media Group (OMG). OMG creates, acquires and build community based publications. Their philosophy is simple: strengthen communities and help people find common ground through high-quality storytelling. The way they do this is by identifying journalists, creators, and existing brands who share in this belief and help them generate in their community. In my view, they are revolutionizing local journalism and helping rebuild our sense of community through entrepreneurship.
My partner Rebekah was the first to show me an article by one of their media publications, the Fraser Valley Current. It was an article about fish populations in the Vedder River. I found it to be filled with facts, well-written and really thorough. As a consequence of my curiosity, I began researching the organization. It was through this I found Tyler Olsen and Grace Kennedy from the Fraser Valley Current, and shortly after I discovered Overstory Media Group and Farhan Mohamed. I have been a subscriber and a believer ever since.
A few months ago, I sat down with Tyler Olsen, the managing editor of the Fraser Valley Current. We discussed the role the publication played during the floods in British Columbia. During that time, the city of Chilliwack became an island, cut off in all directions. Tyler and Grace kept the community informed during a natural disaster. I remember reading some comments from readers, saying that this community publication was one of the reasons they evacuated their homes when they did. It set a true example on the impact local journalism can have.
The FV Current isn’t the only one though. Overstory Media manages the North West Anchor, the Burnaby Beacon, the Vancouver Tech Journal, the Calgary Citizen, The Westshore, the Oak Bay Local, Tasting Victoria, The Coast, and the Capital Daily.
I was eager to sit down with Farhan to understand how this idea developed, and the challenges he saw journalism facing. It is one thing to see a problem, it is another thing to take action and try to bring about a solution. I also wanted to understand what it is like to be the Chief Executive Officer of a growing business. I cannot imagine the weight on Farhan’s shoulders. The journalists he employs relying in-part on him and his idea for their livelihood. How does one manage that pressure? In the same vein, I wanted to know if it was difficult to celebrate the successes. Through the podcast, I find myself so focused on the next step that I forget to celebrate the wins. Is this a challenge for other entrepreneurs?
Finally, I wanted his thoughts on Bill C-18. For those of you who might not know, Bill C-18 is an Online News Act. For some, it is a way to save journalism.1 For others, it gives government unprecedented influence over our news.2 As someone who is directly impacted by Bill C-18, I wanted to hear Farhan’s thoughts, and what changes, if any, he would make to the the Bill. Although, I must admit we did not dive too deeply into the Online News Act, if you want to learn more I recommend checking out Michael Geist’s interview with Farhan on his The Law Bytes Podcast.
I found Farhan to be kind, generous and very thoughtful in his responses. One assumption I had about him, was that he cared about journalism first, and community second. In fact, as he explains in our conversation, he cares about community first, and as a consequence - he cares about journalism. To others, this may seem like a distinction without a difference but to me it indicated an underlying philosophy that likely will guide Overstory Media Group in the years to come. How? If Farhan has to choose between what is good for journalism and what is good for the community, I have a high degree of confidence that he will choose what is best for our community.
The full interview with Farhan Mohamed is available on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all other podcast platforms. Also consider subscribing to one of the OMG community publications, if you do not see your community listed and you would like that to change - tell OMG on social media! I am a huge believer in the work they are doing, and I hope they continue to grow, and connect communities.