Photo credit: Courtesy of Overstory Media Group
The founders of the Overstory Media Group, Farhan Mohamed (left) and Andrew Wilkinson
The BC-based Overstory Media Group plans to grow to 50 brands in the next two years and is confident that its community-oriented approach will pay off in the long term
As anyone who works in print and online journalism will tell you, the past decade or so has not been good for their craft. With declining advertising revenues, layoffs, moody readers, and relentless pressure to do more with less, many reporters and editors have rushed into the greener pastures of public relations and corporate weakness.
Farhan Mohamed can relate. Last May, Mohamed quit his job as editor-in-chief of Daily Hive, the online news publication he joined in 2012 as a business student at Capilano University. “I experienced what many people in the industry experience: exhaustion and stress, overcomplicated processes, never enough time,” he recalls.
But Mohamed did not turn his back on the business. With investor Andrew Wilkinson, he co-founded the Overstory Media Group, which was officially launched yesterday. Victoria-based OMG is bucking the trend by hiring journalists across the country. 250 employees and 50 brands are to be added over the next two years.
The company with 30 employees, whose name refers to a forest roof with its branch network, already owns a handful of online properties. Including: Victoria News Agency Capital Daily, Vancouver Tech Journal and Decomplicated, all of which help decipher the headlines in the Canadian media.
Mohamed compares OMG’s approach to that of old school community papers that were trusted sources of information that popped up on your doorstep. Focusing on three types of communities: geographic (where you live), industrial (where you work), and interests (fairly open) – the company delivers curated e-newsletters to readers’ inboxes.
“Part of that routine is giving them something to look forward to, but then they also know what to expect,” says Mohamed. “And you get that curated experience with original content, people spending the time looking for the information you need to know.”
Get out of the game with page views
Mohamed chose this model in his spare time when he realized there had to be a better way to find what you need online than by Googling or browsing social media.
“I was not supplied with anything of high quality,” he says. “I also wanted to get out of this game of pageviews and the constant pressure to get something out every 20 or 30 minutes because you need more hits, more stories and more hits,” he says. “You will never win it.”
Mohamed remembered his teenage years in north Vancouver when he published a newsletter for a few hundred viewers. “I wanted to get back to my roots and see if we could create a sustainable media organization that was focused on quality content, focused on things like newsletters, and worked with some of the best people in the business.”
He started speaking with Wilkinson, co-founder of Tiny, a Victoria-based venture capital firm that invests in online businesses like the Dribbble designer community and the Girlboss women’s network. Wilkinson launched Capital Daily in 2019, which began as a newsletter.
Mohamed found that they were committed to community-based and investigative journalism and building a lasting business. “He’s someone who says: We have to make bigger turns,” explains Mohamed. “And so we were both on the same page and both said, what if we did this together?”
To serve different communities, OMG plans to ask them what they need to survive and thrive, says Mohamed. “Let’s look at it in that sense and talk to people. Say: What are you missing? What do you want to know and who do you need to put in the spotlight and uncover? “
Makes the (content) people
For anyone looking to stay in journalism, the arrival of OMG sounds like good news. “I spoke to one person recently and said, what’s your five, ten year goal?” Mohamed remembers. “And they said, well, I want to be in this industry a little longer and then I want to go to communication so I can make more money.”
That’s exactly wrong what’s wrong with the business, he claims. “I’ve seen this firsthand, and I’ve been part of the problem of you underpaying and overworking, underestimating and underestimating,” he admits.
“We’re trying to turn that around and say: Power is in the hands of these content creators and in the hands of the journalists,” added Mohamed. “It’s all about how we can empower these local markets and these local teams,” he says. “If the local brand will thrive, you will get immediate success from it.”
Especially when investigative work is part of the mix, it is expensive to get a media brand up and running, according to Mohamed. “So there we say: come under the umbrella. We help you, we give you the tools, the resources, the leadership, the direction. Ultimately, you have editorial control over what you do, but we will make sure this business is successful and that it works, and we will use our full efforts to make it happen. “
As part of its focus on industrial communities, OMG launched the Vancouver Tech Journal, which William Johnson started as a side project. The company hired Johnson full-time this year, added a reporter to the publication, and plans to expand its team, Mohamed says.
“Such a community is a great example of where opportunities lie, provided it’s about the content and how we connect with more people but how we tell more stories,” he notes. “The business world isn’t just about acquisitions and increases, it’s about everything before and after. So let’s have these conversations. “
Our eyes are everywhere
When asked how OMG plans to make money, Mohamed replied that each of its brands will work with a small group of community partners. “And when it makes sense, at a certain point in time we have a paid membership, a job exchange, virtual and personal events. We’ll do whatever the community needs to connect. “
The company will also put quality content first, he promises. “When you visit one of our websites, there will never be a display ad on that website because we focus on the experience,” says Mohamed. “I think if we do that we will make the money in the long run and be able to grow the company. But that’s not one of those. We’re just trying to hack the system and make a ton of money so we can go for the next two to three years. “
OMG is confident that its model for journalism is the way forward, says Mohamed. “We are definitely betting that communities are important and that everything we do has to come from their environment,” he explains. “We have already seen successes. We’re learning from some of the things we do and some of the brands we’ve already introduced over the past few months. “
As his new business expands, it won’t be geographically limited, says Mohamed. “Our eyes are everywhere and everywhere,” he says. “I think there is a real need and there is no limit to what that looks like.”