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Nunavut News takes digital crash course

Casey Lessard is the editor for Nunavut News and a participant in Facebook's Audience Development Accelerator program.

Nunavut News editor Casey Lessard, left, and NNSL publisher/CEO Bruce Valpy discuss ideas at Facebook's Audience Development Accelerator in Toronto May 28. Josh Fee/Facebook Journalism Project photo

You may have heard that this is a challenging time to be in the business of news. Despite studies that show Canadians still read newspapers, print advertising has dropped across the country. A lot of those advertisers are spending their money with American tech giants Facebook and Google instead.

Here at NNSL, we are proud to have been your news source for more than 70 years, and we are working to make the changes needed to continue serving you for another 70 years. It's an ambitious goal considering the state of our industry.

Though our late founder Jack Sigvaldason was an early adopter of the internet, creating our first website in 1995, we are relatively late to the mobile and social media revolution. We've been trying to catch up, and our photo contests are helping us get up to speed. Seeing our Facebook presence grow, our reporters are eager to be the first to bring you the news you expect to see from us.

And yet, it seems that when we take two steps forward, we are pushed one step back.

Despite what we see internally as a surge in interest in our work – Facebook's statistics show we are competitive with other Northern media online – this doesn't translate into a surge in interest in advertising.

Despite being one of the most recognized news organizations in Canada, consistently producing award-winning stories and newspapers, there are those in our communities who hate us, and others who have no idea who we are.

We can also see, according to Facebook and Google statistics, that there are many people who read our work and return for more. We are doing some things right.

Equally, we have work to do to better serve our readers, but where do we put our energies? We have our blind spots. We know we need some help.

But it is a tough pill to swallow that the company eating your lunch is the one offering that help. Facebook has promised the independent non-profit Canadian Journalism Foundation $2.5 million to benefit up to 15 Canadian journalism entities. Of the 15 approached to participate in Facebook Canada's Audience Development Accelerator, 11 signed up, including NNSL.

The accelerator is a chance for publishers to learn how to focus on the audience – you, our readers – and build a business model. Coached by top journalism and marketing professionals – from the New York Times, Washington Post, and others – we will execute an idea we think will push our business forward, supported by $75,000 in cash from Facebook to make that idea a reality.

Nunavut News editor Casey Lessard, centre, joins New York Times senior editor for internet and audience Justin Bank during a discussion of trust in journalism at Facebook's Audience Development Accelerator in Toronto May 29. Josh Fee/Facebook Journalism Project photo

We swallowed the pill, and our team – publisher/CEO Bruce Valpy, co-ordinating editor Michele Taylor, digital marketing director Gabe Powless, and Nunavut News editor Casey Lessard – travelled to Facebook Canada's Toronto headquarters May 27 to 29 for three days of learning and networking with other publishers facing similar challenges. We'll meet again in Montreal in July, and at Facebook's global headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., in August.

Joining us are Glacier Media, The Discourse, Daily Hive, The Tyee, the Observer Media Group, Winnipeg Free Press, Village Media, Brunswick News, Le Soleil and Postmedia. The Walrus is auditing the program, as well.

We're sure each publisher will identify different challenges and test different solutions. We are free to adopt any idea presented at the table, but we are working under Vegas rules, meaning we can't share publicly what the other teams are doing without their permission.

Our team returned home with notebooks full of ideas to help meet the needs and desires of our readers and supporters. You should expect to see many small changes, and perhaps some big ones, over the next year and beyond.

We are excited to start work on a project that works for Northerners, and we need your support. User feedback is critical to the process, and we will be asking you what you want, what you need, why we are part of your life, and what we can do to be a better part of your life.

We hope you'll join us on this journey (even if we can't take you with us to Menlo Park), and push us forward when we need it.