Calgary pop-up journalism The Sprawl is resurrected, showing holes in media landscape

The Sprawl, an online website launched by editor and writer Jeremy Klaszus, is moving from temporary project to one he hopes can become a permanent fixture in Calgary's media landscape.

Jeremy Klaszus - creator, editor, writer - says gaps in media coverage reaching 'crisis' level

Jeremy Klaszus is the creator, editor and writer for The Sprawl, an online Calgary news site. (The Sprawl, Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

Calgarians have broader horizons when it comes to where they get their news starting Monday. 

The Sprawl, an online website launched by editor and writer Jeremy Klaszus, is moving from a temporary project to one he hopes can become a permanent fixture in Calgary's media landscape as it gains steam with increasing numbers of financial supporters and readers. 

"Well, I noticed that there was a gap in the city in terms of media coverage. I was working as a freelancer and freelance budgets were being cut around town," Klaszus told CBC News. 

"So I was kind of at a crossroads."

And after some soul searching, his brainchild, The Sprawl, was born. 

The first edition: YYC votes

Initially, The Sprawl was only meant to be a temporary experiment, Klaszus said, to cover the Calgary municipal election. 

"It was amazing because the engagement level was so high. People were really into it and people were saying, 'we need this, thank you for setting this up. How can we help?' Everybody was like, 'How can we keep this going?'"

As of Nov. 24, Klaszus had earned the financial support of 240 people, yielding more than $2,100 each month using the online membership platform Patreon

'Local news is in crisis'

"Covering this city, it used to be I would look at the gaps in coverage and what can I cover? You'd identify these slices of things that aren't being covered. But those gaps now are huge, and it's not even a gap really, local news is in crisis," Klaszus said.

"The Sprawl is not going to replace the robustness of what the Calgary Herald once was, but I feel I can bring value and cover some of that important stuff that just isn't getting coverage right now. Not for lack of good intent by other journalists, but just lack of resources."

Klaszus thinks part of his audience comes from those who are still longing to fill the void left by the now-defunct alt-weekly Fast Forward Weekly he used to work for. 

Ultimately, after pressure from supporters reached critical mass, Klaszus decided to resurrect The Sprawl. He sent out a poll to his financial supporters asking what they wanted him to cover next: the Calgary-Lougheed provincial byelection or the municipal budget debate.

Calgary's budget was the pick, and so on Monday, Klaszus begins his coverage. 

​Success of new ventures offers hope, says journalism professor

Journalism professor Archie McLean was among those who gave guidance to Klaszus as he got started. 

"The first thing is: is there demand for this kind of news and information? The answer he guessed was yes — and that's been borne out," McLean said. 

McLean says while many have tried to solve the problem of the languishing media across North America, few have found funding models that work. 

"Just about every newsroom in the city has shrunk over the last five years. That has meant less local news coverage. I think the folks that are covering news here in the city are doing a great job, but there's just only so many of them," McLean said.

"It allows other people like Jeremy, like the Sprawl, to step into that void and cover issues that aren't being covered."

McLean says he doesn't mince words with his students — the days of a 30 or 40-year career at a single organization followed by a pension is over for journalists — but he says he finds hope in the tentative success of The Sprawl also seen in other new-generation startups like Canadaland, a crowdfunded podcast network and news organization.