"It may be just the cocktail parties I go to," said David Beers, "but my hunch is that there's a growing demand for an alternative media."

In British Columbia (BC), at least, that hunch appears to be based on firm evidence.

Mr Beers is the founding editor of a tiny but rapidly expanding online news site that is kicking back at suffocating media ownership concentration in one corner of Canada.

While there is nothing new in the launch - and failure - of new 'alternative' news sites, this new venture based in Vancouver is starting to turn heads. This news site is called The Tyee (www.thetyee.ca) - a local name for a hooked salmon that fights back.

The Tyee is only one month old but only two weeks ago it was getting 10,000 page views a day. Its launch has attracted national publicity and it has already broken at least two concrete exclusives that have left its rivals standing.

The first was a stinging investigation into weakening child labour protection in BC (www.thetyee.ca/News/current/Kids+on+the+Job.htm) and the second, another investigative piece on how abused women are being denied legal aid (www.thetyee.ca/News/current/No+Way+Out.htm).

Mr Beers told dotJournalism: "Within two weeks of our launch the media was keying off us."

Until recently The Tyee editor was a central part of the current dominant regional news daily - the Vancouver Sun.

Winner of two national awards for an environmental series and editor of a Saturday supplement, he was enjoying his role as chief feature writer until, out of the blue, he was fired. The sacking of an award-winning, but left-of-centre, journalist from one of Canada’s best-known dailies attracted some bad publicity for the Vancouver Sun’s owners CanWest Global Communications Corp. The issue started to focus attention on media ownership.

"This corner of Canada probably has the most concentrated media ownership in Western democracy," Mr Beers said.

"People are starting to ask what this means."

By any standards, the grip CanWest Global Communications has in BC is extraordinary. Aside from the Vancouver Sun, it owns two other dailies also based in BC. It owns one paid-for weekly and 19 free weeklies - three of them in Vancouver. It owns the daily in the nearest big city to Vancouver (The Victoria Times-Colonist) and the most popular national TV channel and CH Vancouver Island - a local TV channel. The company also owns www.canada.com - a huge portal that also carries local and national news.

Mr Beers’ hunch that there is not only unease about media ownership in BC, but a demand for something new was confirmed in November 2002 when a meeting was arranged to discuss the problem in Vancouver.

"It was packed," he said.

"Seminars and discussions were held well into the evening."

But while there may be concern about media ownership, why should The Tyee work when so many online publications have failed?

"Media culture moves on," said Mr Beers.

"To say that something that did not work in 1998 cannot work in 2004 is ignoring the fact that young people and opinion leaders are increasingly using the web for news."

Mr Beers' has convinced a lot of people that these market developments, coupled with disillusionment with dominant news services, may just make a new and hard-hitting online journal viable. The strategy is straightforward.

Firstly, the site itself is very simple. No flashy graphics, no complicated contents bars.

"It's not beautiful, but it's foolproof.

"It’s targeted at tired truck drivers and nurses who’ve just got in from work, and it needs to be easy to use."

Second, the team has avoided commercial backing.

"Instead we've gone to people who have an interest in diversifying the media.

"We're piecing together a coalition of funders. One of them is the BC Federation of Labour."

Some of the best publications in the US don't use conventional ways to stay afloat says Beers. He cites the Nation, Mother Jones, Salon and Slate as good examples.

"The .org world is more inspiring than the .com world.

"If you want something that isn’t a slave to advertisers, then it has to have other funding."

Third, The Tyee is targeting a specific local audience.

"Putting up general content on the internet is mad.

"The advertising you need to spend to compete often costs more than it would to go to print in the first place."

He argues that Salon only survived because of the polarisation of politics in the US and Salon targeted a liberal audience.

"It wasn’t until then and the Bush victory that it was able to charge for content," he said.

"I think the Salon model will work much better regionally."

Lastly, The Tyee has no rigid business strategy timetable. At the moment the aim is excellent journalism.

"We are going to do fair and accurate journalism but we're going to ask difficult questions," said Mr Beers.

"The focus is on investigative reporting and good blogs.

"At the moment all we want to do is build a following. We will charge for adverts at some point and we may charge for content in about a year.

"The first phase is to put out good content then the business revenue will evolve."

The site's initial budget is $150,000 per year with a spend on content of just $1100 per week, which Mr Beers admits is very little.

"But it means we can run at least one hard-nosed investigative feature per week."

Mr Beers calls the venture a 'fascinating experiment'.

"Maybe the media environment hasn’t changed since 1998, maybe not enough people want an alternative, maybe our model isn’t right," he said.

"But if it doesn’t work in BC, it won’t work anywhere else."

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