An up-and-coming Calgary local news site, The Sprawl, has been awarded significant seed money as it strives to become a sustainable online publication for the community.
Sprawl, the creation of local free-lance journalist Jeremy Klaszus, has been accepted to be a part of the Digital News Innovation Challenge (DNIC) and received $100,000 in seed capital along with $50,000 in the Facebook marketing budget.
Klaszus got the word of the award in October.
The Sprawl, which launched on the web in 2017, has been mainly crowdfunded, with approximately over 350 people were supporting it.
“The big thing is now we can hire and pay freelancers,” Klaszus said in an interview.
He said they’re in the process of figuring it out how else to use the money, but they have plans for expansion.
“It’s highly unusual in this day and age in terms of local news organization getting financial support from people,”
In its pitch to the DNIC, The Sprawl not only showed off its online work, but also a website, which is something the publication didn’t have before.
DNIC is a collaboration between the Ryerson School of Journalism, Digital Media Zone (DMZ), and Facebook Journalism Projects.
Klaszus became aware of DNIC after people contacted him about it.
“A bunch of people sent it to me, saying, ‘This sounds exactly like what you’re doing.’ I looked at it and was like, ‘Oh yeah, that is very aligned with what we’re doing,’” he said.
Klaszus was shortlisted after applying. He did a pitch in Toronto in March, explaining what The Sprawl was about.
“Basically, what I told them was ‘We do pop up journalism. So instead of trying to cover everything in the city all the time, we cover one thing at a time and go deep on it,’” he said.
Klaszus said that his pitch seemed to resonate with DNIC representatives.
The Sprawl was one of the five candidates that took part in the challenge, and and the only candidate from west of Ontario.
Candidates got help with their presentations from the program experts, both on the journalism and business sides.
Klaszus praised the program experts and said that they really helped him map out the future of the publication.
“One of the big things was that I don’t have a background in business, that’s not my natural area of expertise,” he said.
“Some of these people do have experience in that, so that was a big help in terms of mapping out what’s next for The Sprawl, how we reach it, and how we grow in crowdfunding so that it becomes sustainable.”
The experience overall was, “good, but intense at times, but good,” he said.
Klaszus added that he had a strong sense of “staying true to the concept” after the challenge, and that has helped him stick to his news niche.
“This shouldn’t just become like other big news organizations,” he said “Now that we have the money, it doesn’t mean we do daily news.”
Klaszus said what has helped is the excitement about The Sprawl expressed by people at the challenge.
“They were like, ‘oh that’s something that’s not happening elsewhere, this is an original thing,’” he said.