A primer on funding and support for Canadian independent news publishers

LION has identified more than 50 distinct funding and support opportunities for news entrepreneurs in Canada.

November 1, 2023 by Nikita Roy

Photo by bob_bosewell via iStock
Photo by bob_bosewell via iStock

When I started building The NRI Nation, an independent news publication based in Canada that explores the diverse experiences of the Indian diaspora, I had to navigate the complexities of sourcing appropriate funding and support. While resources are out there, finding them isn’t exactly straightforward.

I’m not alone in this challenge. After spending the last couple of months interviewing other Canadian independent news publishers as part of LION’s research into Canada’s local independent media ecosystem, they all echoed this sentiment.

That’s why LION asked me to build a list of financial funding and other professional development/business support opportunities that Canadian independent news publishers can take advantage of. My hope is that this database, which I’ve summarized the highlights of below, helps other existing and prospective publishers better navigate Canada’s landscape for funding and support independent news publishers. Please let us know what other opportunities you’d suggest we add to the list, so we can help other entrepreneurs take advantage of them.

Government funding: The federal government is among the key players in funding news media in Canada.  

  • Introduced in 2019, programs such as the Local Journalism Initiative aim to revitalize news deserts by funding salaries for news organizations to hire journalists. 
  • Another initiative is the Canadian Periodical Fund, which, since 2009, has been financially supporting print magazines, community newspapers, and digital outlets.
  • There’s also a number of tax-related support programs administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, including labor tax credits for Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations  

Foundation funding: Journalism is still a new area of funding for most Canadian foundations, said Ana Sofía Hibon from Inspirit Foundation. She said it’s important to note that publications typically only receive funding from foundations when their work corresponds to the specific public interest issues prioritized by the foundations. Consequently, there aren’t any foundations in Canada that currently prioritize journalism organizations for funding. However, here is a list of foundations that have historically given funding to independent news publications.

  • Inspirit Foundation supports arts and media to help advance a more inclusive and pluralist Canada. It has funded independent publishers including The Local, La Converse, The Eastern Door and Indiginews. They’ve also funded the First Nations University’s journalism program.
  • McConnell Foundation’s work is dedicated to three focus areas: climate, communities and reconciliation. Independent news publications have received funding through the ‘communities’ stream. The Narwhal received $200,000 in funding from them for their Ontario bureau as well as $10,000 in core support in 2022. 
  • The Trottier Family Foundation specifically supports projects that promote innovative scientific discovery, mitigate climate change and protect the environment, enhance education, improve patient and health care, and provide assistance to select community and international initiatives. In 2022, the foundation gave $75,000 to The Narwhal to support their climate investigations reporter.

Canadian media-specific support: These are some other organizations that offer resources to specifically support independent news entrepreneurs.

  • Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization committed to championing the rights of journalists and offering professional development opportunities. They have local chapters in Toronto and Ottawa that actively support their respective regional journalism communities. In 2024, CAJ will host its annual conference in Toronto. 
  • News Media Canada represents the voice of print and digital news media in Canada. They provide resources, research, and support for Canadian publishers.
  • Canadian Journalism Foundation promotes the excellence of Canadian journalism. They provide fellowships, awards, and professional development opportunities.
  • Indiegraf is a network that supports independent digital publishers with tools, services, and knowledge to grow their business.

Entrepreneur and/or small business funding and support: There are also non-journalism specific opportunities that all entrepreneurs can benefit from.

  • Toronto Metropolitan University Zones has incubation zones at the university that foster innovation in multiple fields, including media, for Toronto-based publications.
  • Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab offers a year-round program called the Fifth Wave initiative, which is Canada’s first feminist business accelerator for women founders in Southern Ontario.
  • Venture for Canada provides hiring subsidies and serves as a facilitator, connecting new entrepreneurs with enterprising college students and recent graduates. 
  • Organizations such as Futurpreneur Canada and the Laidlaw Foundation provide grants and financial backing to youth-driven organizations. 
  • The League of Innovators supports young entrepreneurs through an accelerator program, which provides financial assistance and business training opportunities

U.S.-based support for Canadians: Multiple U.S.-based organizations also extend their support northward, benefiting Canadian news entrepreneurs. 

To explore all of the more than 50 opportunities in greater detail please refer to the Comprehensive Guide to Funding and Support Opportunities for News Entrepreneurs in Canada Airtable. Each opportunity caters to a specific need within the journalism sector: mentorship, project funding, organizational support, legal aid, and capacity building.

If you have suggestions of other opportunities to add that Canadian news entrepreneurs should be aware of, please reach out to [email protected]

A special thanks to The Green Line’s Anita Li (a LION board member) and Inspirit Foundation’s Ana Sofía Hibon for their suggested contributions to this list of resources.

Thanks to the Google News Initiative for funding our research into Canada. Learn more about our partnership.

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