Introducing The Sprawl: Canada’s ‘Pop-Up Journalism Project’

Journalist Jeremy Klaszus formed The Sprawl as a “pop-up journalism project” to cover the 2017 municipal elections in Calgary, AB.

“It started spontaneously as a result of newsrooms around town being cut, and there being a lack of civic journalism in Calgary,” said Klaszus.

Though it initially only set out to cover the election, The Sprawl has evolved over time to help fill the void left by merged newsrooms and the closure of the city’s alternative weekly, Fast Forward.

Taking its name from what Klaszus says is one of the city’s defining characteristics — urban sprawl — the local news platform presents deep dives into civic affairs stories and community features, while retaining its original “pop-up” style.

“The idea behind pop-up journalism is instead of trying to cover everything all the time, we do these popups that let us focus on one thing at a time,” said Klaszus.

The pop-up model allows for more manageable growth and for more flexibility to focus on the stories they want to cover — and how they want to cover them, says Klaszus.

Some stories are more suited to the website, others to the podcast, and occasionally stories about the city take the form of comic strips, Klaszus explained. They’ve even gone the more traditional route of printing a newspaper on one occasion.

Klaszus says The Sprawl has a dedicated support base of more than 800 monthly contributors. He prefers this voluntary membership model over subscription paywalls, which he views as “punitive.” Instead, he likes to tell his audience, “if you support this [local journalism] and you want to see more of it, then help pitch in.”

Klaszus explains that his responsibility to his members is often on his mind, as are the consequences if people don’t like what he reports.

In a recent “Sprawlcast” episode, Klaszus reported that city council allocated funds for a new NHL arena, despite the fact that the province recently cut funds for a public transit line, leaving the city budget in a bit of a crunch.

He recognizes that some of his supporters are in favor of the arena funding, whereas others are against it, and would like to see funds allocated to transit.

His objective for The Sprawl is that “regardless of where you stand on that particular issue, the journalism itself is still useful for you.”

Klaszus recognizes that the local news platform may not be able to compete with the bigger dailies in terms of quantity or frequency of news, but what it can do is create a community of engaged citizens.

In fact, community is the driving force behind the project. Its website even features a crowd-sourced manifesto that serves both as the platform’s mission statement and its code of conduct.

“People already have tons of information,” said Klaszus. “They have too much information in many ways — but what they don’t necessarily have is community, and they don’t necessarily have civic engagement. So that’s what people are actually hungry for.”

For The Sprawl, it’s the journalism that brings people together.

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Cara Sabatini is the NNC’s Director of Dispute Resolution.

Follow the NNC on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates on issues in journalism ethics, media literacy, and #cdnmedia. To review our organization’s decisions, please visit the NNC’s webpage.

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A blog operated by Canada’s National NewsMedia Council, devoted to the critical examination of issues in media ethics, news literacy, and responsible reporting.

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