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Canada's OpenFile suspends operations

by: Julia Scott |

A leading experimental media site, OpenFile, has shut down - temporarily - less than a year after its CEO was recognized as Newsperson of the year by The Canadian Journalism Project. The site, which follows and reports reader suggested stories, is being reconfigured while on hiatus, according to Wilf Dinnick, OpenFile’s CEO.

“And we're shrinking it right now, really small, while we try to figure this out,” Dinnick told The Tyee earlier in October. Much of the OpenFile staff was laid off, including weekend curators and editors in Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, and Toronto.

Wilf hinted at a new partnership that is in the works, but declined to answer questions about time frame and revenue models. Moving forward, he said he is going to “focus more on what we do well, which is exploit the user generated suggestions and content.”

“You'll see a lot more points of entry to participate,” Wilf told The Tyee. “There's one or two ways to participate on OpenFile on that model, and we want to make sure we (substantially increase that).”

Before the site went dark, readers could suggest story ideas, vote on stories that passed OpenFile editors’ vetting, upload photos and video. About 60 percent of suggested stories got assigned. OpenFile operated sites in six cities - Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, and Vancouver.

Occasionally, an OpenFile story ended up on the front page of a major media partner, such as the Toronto Star. That’s what happened when a reader asked about the cigarette butts that appear after all the snow melts. Pigeons in Toronto and baptisms in public pools are hot topics on OpenFile. Zoning board meetings? Not so much.

Monthly unique visits totaled 400,000 and return users spent an average of seven minutes on site, Dinnick said in an interview earlier this fall.

A third of revenue came from media partnerships. Partners paid a fee to run OpenFile’s widget and publish their stories. Dinnick declined to disclose his rates, but said it was equivalent to hiring a junior reporter.

Another 10 to 15 percent of OpenFile’s revenue came from display advertising. The remaining revenue came from partnerships with brands like DX3, a digital marketing conference in Toronto.

A private investor gave Dinnick money in May 2010 and the site launched a few months later in September.

Julia Scott

Julia Scott is the founder of BargainBabe.com. The site helps people save money on everyday expenses like groceries, gasoline, and
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