Jesse Brown launches Patreon campaign to fund his independent podcast, Canadaland

Canadaland logo

by Rachel Sanders

Jesse Brown saw an empty space on the Canadian media landscape. So he filled that niche with Canadaland, a weekly media criticism podcast that started a year ago this week.

Over the past year, Canadaland has built up an audience of over 10,000 listeners. That’s a number that has been steadily climbing. But a year in, Brown has found that sponsorship is not enough to support his work.

So this week he launched a crowdfunding campaign. Unlike many of the journalism crowdfunding projects we’ve seen over the past few months, Brown is running his campaign through Patreon. The crowdfunding platform, which was founded in May 2013, allows fans to support creators with monthly donations.

Within an hour and a half of its launch on Monday, Canadaland’s Patreon campaign had surpassed its first milestone — $1000 a month to cover costs and keep the show going. At the time of this posting, the campaign is creeping towards its second milestone — $4000 a month to improve the show and increase its frequency to twice a week. Brown says that if he reaches $10,000 a week he intends to hire other freelance journalists and create a podcast network.

Brown spent a few minutes on the phone with Story Board earlier this week to talk about crowdfunding, niche journalism and following your obsession.


Q: What inspired you to start Canadaland?

A: The lack of any media criticism in Canada – ranging from serious approaches like On The Media to satirical approaches like the Daily Show or gossipy stuff like Gawker. I like that stuff and I find it interesting and informative and funny and there was nothing like that here.

And then as somebody who’s been working in the media for the past fifteen years, I was aware that that was what everybody always talked about, were those subjects. Privately. And then there was a sense that you weren’t allowed to talk about it publicly. And I thought that was ridiculous. So I pitched it around in various formats, as a newspaper column, as a CBC show, on television, as a radio show, as a podcast for Macleans, and I got a variety of excuses or rejections with different reasoning. Very commonly I was told that nobody wanted to hear that kind of stuff if it was about Canadian media. So I decided to do it on my own.

And now you need to crowdfund some money for it. What are the benefits of a Patreon as opposed to, say, an Indiegogo?

I think that Indiegogo and Kickstarter are really great for finite projects. Be it, like, writing a book or a screenplay or producing a movie, or a videogame. They get the ball rolling.

But I’m looking for a sustainable model. The problem that I’m trying to solve is not that I need some quick cash to keep the lights on. My problem is that I’m doing independent media in a country that I don’t think has the population base to support independent media as an advertiser supported enterprise, exclusively. We’ve seen in the States that there’s this wonderful new thing happening where there’s a number of really excellent podcasts that can sustain small staffs of journalists and producers, in some cases based purely on the advertising. And if I had a podcast that could appeal to a worldwide audience or an American audience, I’d have the same sponsors they do.

But because my show is about Canada I’m never really going to appeal to anyone but Canadians. If you put a zero at the end of my audience, at the end of that 10,000 listeners, and had 100,000 listeners then I could probably support myself off of it. If you put a zero at the end of our population you have roughly the American population. So I’m trying to figure out how you do independent media in Canada the way that we’re seeing some interesting niche journalists and people on interesting beats that are being underserved by legacy media in the U.S.

I think it’s got to have direct support and that support’s got to be sustainable and ongoing. So that’s why Patreon makes sense.

The campaign launched on Monday, right? But by the time I saw it at noon, you were already up to $1700 a month.

It was sort of like the soft launch, where the podcast came out announcing it. I figured of the 10,000 people who listen to the show, a good percentage of them listen to it right when it comes out on Monday. And that’ll form a nice basis, I figured. Just like a busker. You want to have a $20 bill in your hat or something, just to get the ball rolling. So I figured that I would just not really hype up until the next day. I would let that happen. And I was incredibly surprised because as I was just doing something else, I checked my phone and saw that we’d broken through the first milestone by 10:30 in the morning. So there was just an instant, overwhelming response.

How high do you think it’s going to go?

I don’t know, but one thing I really like about it as opposed to a Kickstarter is there really isn’t this artificial deadline. With Kickstarter you say “for some reason, arbitrarily, today we’ve got 30 days or 60 days to raise this money.” I’m doing this every week. I’ve been doing it every week for a year and my listeners know that I’m in it for the long haul.

So a thousand bucks is what I needed to keep it going. And I want to make this my full time job and I want to do stuff beyond that. And I’m willing to work for as long as it takes.

I know that the nature of crowdfunding even on Patreon is that what you get in your first week or month… that’s your first push and then it’s gradual after that. So I don’t know. I could be really pleasantly surprised and I could reach the next milestone quickly. But if not, I’m still overjoyed and I’m happy to just work to maintain the audience I have.

Because they can cancel at any time. That’s the other thing with Patreon. It isn’t this deal where you give the creator money and the creator has what they need from you and you’re out of the picture. I need to keep those people engaged with my show because they can change their pledges or they can cancel their pledges at any time.

So I need to grow my audience and serve the audience that I have. Which is another thing I really like about it — it really, I think, strengthens the relationship between a journalist and their audience.

What do you think is going to be necessary to keep people on board then?

Well there’s one sense in which I provide a product. And I know for a lot of people it’s just this thing where they get the podcast and they go on a jog or they do the dishes or they commute. And it informs them or entertains them. It’s something that they use.

But I think I also provide a service, where no one else is keeping an eye on the media and analyzing this stuff and criticizing it. It’s just important to some people that somebody be doing that job. So if something happens in the newsroom at the Globe and Mail, that should be known. And otherwise it would go unknown because people there can’t report it.

It is now known in the business that you can call me and I will protect your identity and I will verify your story. And if it’s newsworthy, I will report it. And that’s a check on all of the things that have been happening in our news culture.

So I think to keep the audience and the paid subscribers among them, I have to keep the show’s quality really high. There’s no shortage of interesting stories and interesting people to talk with. And I can make it even better, because now I can afford more time and do more documentaries and investigative reporting.

But I think it’s also important that there’s a promise, too, that the show really has to have a spine and be fearless in reporting this stuff and seeking these stories out.

What do you think it takes to run a successful Patreon? Does a creator need to prove themselves first? How did you know it was time to launch this?

It’s interesting, those guys at Ricochet were able to get $75,000 for a publication that didn’t exist yet. Based on a concept. It was thrilling to watch that happen. And I think it had some connection to the casseroles and to Idle No More or to Occupy. There’s a political sensibility and a political affiliation that was being underserved by the media who were just very happy to hear that someone was going to be doing news media from their point of view. So just based on the concept, they got a lot of support.

I felt like the concept of media criticism itself was not going to get enough support from me to crowdfund it from the beginning. I felt like I had to prove myself. And so I don’t know which is the right solution. Mine seems to be working well for me so far and theirs certainly worked well for them. I think it depends on the project.

But I do think that there is something here, and I know that people are following me very closely. There is something here for other journalists and people in the media to pay attention to, because I think we have, in many ways, in all kinds of beats, an underserviced news audience. And it’s very frustrating to [try to] get certain kinds of journalism published in this country, even though there’s a huge appetite for it.

I would love to see a thousand other podcasts bloom. And I would certainly support them myself, if the content appeals to me. And I also want to play a role in that. I want to build Canadaland into a podcast network if the support continues to increase.

Any other advice for people who are thinking about trying a Patreon?

I was really tortured for long time as to whether or not to do this. If no one was going to listen. If I was going to be burning all my bridges. If I was going to make a fool of myself. And I’m just really glad that I did it.

I think you’ve got to follow your obsession. If you are really concerned about something or obsessed with it, or you think it needs to be said, there’s a good chance other people do, too. And there’s nothing stopping you from just jumping in and covering that and just seeing where it takes you.

So I would encourage anybody… especially now that so many people are losing their jobs and they have all these skills. And they want to be doing this work. The financial model collapsing doesn’t mean that this country is in any less need of journalism.

There’s a lot of people out there with time on their hands and I encourage them not to sit on their hands. People want this stuff.


This interview was edited and condensed.


Posted on October 8, 2014 at 1:42 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

One Response

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  1. Written by Joe Clark
    on October 9, 2014 at 6:24 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Are you going to fact-check any of Brown’s statements here, particularly the false ones, like the claims of complete absence of media criticism; that advertising didn’t work for him when what he had was sponsorship; that he will publish the truth about the Globe and Mail despite the fact his former friends won’t talk to him anymore; and that Jesse’s idea of fact-checking is sending an E-mail the recipient can ignore?

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