Lights Out for OpenFile Hamilton

By RTH Staff
Published November 18, 2011

this blog entry has been updated

It's official: OpenFile Hamilton is shutting down as of this Monday, November 21.

Wilf Dinnick, CEO of OpenFile, posted an editorial today in which he wrote: "With great sadness, after nearly a year of operation in the Hammer, I'm sorry to say we won't publish new content on the Hamilton site after Sunday's CFL game."

No new content will be published to OpenFile Hamilton after that point, but existing articles "will remain online indefinitely." Dinnick explained that OpenFile's readership has grown in every city but Hamilton, and that the fledgling news organization must "focus our resources where we are successful."

In an email to contributors, Hamilton editor Sheryl Nadler wrote, "Despite our best efforts to drive traffic -­ and we tried just about everything -­ we were just not seeing the amount of growth for which we had hoped."

Update: Wilf Dinnick responded to an email from RTH asking why he thinks readership stagnated in Hamilton when it grew in the other OpenFile cities:

We don't know, obviously. I would have loved to have given Hamilton another year to grow, but we had to be honest when we looked at the metrics. The message, for whatever reason, was that this was not working right now in Hamilton. One important part of running a startup is to ensure we are able to pivot quickly and shift our resources to what works.

I was walking on James Street North the other day, stopped by the Hawk and Sparrow, had a tea at the Mulberry café, visited Mixed Media, and I thought this is one of the many communities that would suit OpenFile. So we are a bit confused why we didn't get traction this time around, but we will try to learn from it.

We also asked him what he thinks needs to change for a Hamilton branch of OpenFile to succeed. He responded:

I want to be clear - this is not control-alt-delete. We are not taking down the Hamilton site. All the stories and user comments we've published over the past year will remain online. However, we are not publishing new content until we have a better understanding of how to proceed. We would very much like to be an active part of the Hamilton conversation again and to build an engaged audience.

Our success in other markets is telling us plenty about community and what works and what doesn't. We intend to keep tweaking that model to give the readers what they want.

We have an ambitious team and exciting plans for 2012. Unfortunately, we need to turn our attention away from Hamilton at this time.


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 09:34:37

That's terribly unfortunate, with the Spectator having recently introduced a paywall I would think Openfile would be posed for growth...

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By JM (registered) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 09:54:02 in reply to Comment 71398

thats too bad, i started reading openfile for exactly that reason... (and for the different viewpoint) but it also provided me with some news i couldn't see on the spec website

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By TnT (registered) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 09:38:07

This is terrible news. OpenFile is the greatest thing mediawise to come along since Raise The Hammer. Is there any recourse for keeping them going? This is a terrible, terrible blow for hamilton!

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2011 at 10:01:26

As a earlier supporter and promoter of OpenFile's expansion to Hamilton, I'm saddened by this news.

I wrote the first piece posted to their site and really saw the potential in the model.

They failed to find a voice and focused too much on being an extension of The Hamilton Spectator.

I was hopeful they would break news, they rarely did. When they did, they were rewarded with great traffic and community support.

Sadly, they were too focused on being aligned with TheSpec instead of being a healthy outlet of their own.

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By roadrash (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2011 at 10:56:36 in reply to Comment 71404

Their strategy was not totally invalid, considering Peggy Chapman's media chill regarding independent and citizen-driven news outlets. But, as we have seen, ultimately misguided. Too bad.

BTW - does the Spec know that their paywall doesn't actually work? Which, given the way The Spec operates, isn't entirely surprising ...

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2011 at 11:12:05 in reply to Comment 71407

OpenFile wrote against the open letter from RTH, myself, The Hamiltonian, CFMU, INDI 101, Urbanicity, and others expressing concerns about Ms. Chapman's attempts to ban independent media:

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By kendall (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2011 at 01:36:33 in reply to Comment 71411

"Unfortunately, though, when drawing up their petition, the city’s indie media outlets drew a line in the sand themselves. They made a distinction between themselves and who they see as “traditional” media outlets by not inviting everyone to the table to discuss the issues and wording of such a document. How can OpenFile endorse something of this nature without having been asked our opinion in its planning stages?"

Would you be taking pot shots at OpenFile if they did support RTH's less than Democratic open letter? You are one voice of many who oppose the closed mindedness of City Hall. RTH showed just as much arrogance in thinking that their opinions should speak for everyone.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 11:05:06 in reply to Comment 71407

Pandering to control freaks is never a good strategy.

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By Gabriel (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 11:00:55 in reply to Comment 71407

lol, proxy, refresh and stop, delete cookies.

the spec doesn't care if it works or not. This is actually Toronto Star Corp testing it on a small portion of the masses. When TorStar ever goes paywall, they will plug all these holes.

maybe openfile could do a story about the paywall...

oh wait.... maybe not.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2011 at 11:15:26 in reply to Comment 71409

You gave them some great story ideas in January that OpenFile never followed up.

Ironically, you suggested looking into 275 King St W and they didn't.

Today, 275 King St W is a story and nobody is covering it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 12:01:24 in reply to Comment 71412

Yea, I'm not exactly sure where to pinpoint this, but they didn't grab me. Nothing really unique, nothing that you could ONLY get there. Plus, the Spec affiliations led me to believe it was just a Spec attempt to get an online presence. The letter against media being allowed at city hall further cemented this view.
Surprised the Spec doesn't try to scoop up their Hamilton site. It's better than the Spec site (no biggie there).

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2011 at 12:36:30 in reply to Comment 71414

The more I think about it, the more likely it seems that OpenFile's business model is to get bought out by Torstar in 18 mths (3yrs since their Toronto launch)

Much like IT start-ups work to get bought by Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook.

Hamilton and Waterloo have little value to Torstar for expansion.

Of course, we don't know who exactly on Bay Street is funding OpenFile, what the investors wish in return. It's a private start-up company.

Their Halifax, Vancouver, Calgary, and Ottawa operations can be quite valuable to Torstar in a sale.

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By roadrash (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2011 at 16:09:42 in reply to Comment 71415

They would, if TorStar actually understood the value and potential of digital/interactive/user relevant media.

But since they still see the interwebs as a way to push readers and (most importantly, from a financial standpoint) sellable subscriber data back to their "real" product, I wouldn't hold my breath.

BTW: Don't be misled by TD as the "founding sponsor". The real coin behind OpenFile is courtesy of their corporate partner, CGI.

Comment edited by roadrash on 2011-11-18 17:25:42

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By Gabriel (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 10:41:13 in reply to Comment 71404

oh my. hahahahahahahaha.

(joey, love the tag!!!)

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By CCC (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 10:58:54

I agree with Joey. THey should have focused on the data and info but some info was ont allowed.
Even my comments.

Ham has a toxix waste mess that is tainting it.
It has a high number of mentally ill and and under educated people and those with low job skills.

The city has many orgs but they seem mostly to intersted in getting money for basic programs but i see little in long term programs to bring those up out of poverty into better outcomes.

Cops, courts, cas, and the drug problem is outstanding in Hamilton. No one seems to care and then the Stadium. ah the secrecy of the govt in Hamilton. Canada is lacking in a true democracy. Really is an autocracy.

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By sourgrapes (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 13:54:46

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By Gabriel (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 14:11:29

this is about leadership and not readership.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 14:34:23

The intrepid Amy Kenny broke the story of Hamiltons backpackers being shut down on OpenFile. I am forever grateful for this. If it wasn't for online open source media like RTH, Hamiltonian, OpenFile we wouldnt exist today. The unfortunate facts are we will probably not be able to continue operations too much longer under the current restrictions, but the awareness was important and I hope Indy journalism will continue to promote the underdog. I fear the loss of one of the bigger free sources fading out.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2011 at 14:35:55 in reply to Comment 71426

The introduction to Ms. Kenny's writing is one of the reasons I respect the OF model.

I didn't know her writing previously and am glad The Spectator runs her work regularly.

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By Brendan Simons (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2011 at 15:12:52

This was my first introduction to OpenFile Hamilton. I'm sad to see so many interesting articles, and know that there won't be any more. I wish I had seen this earlier (Maybe RTH should have had OpenFile in your links section?)

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By Inky Wretch (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2011 at 08:11:31

Nothing that pays contributors promptly ad at a professional grade will last for more than a year without either self-sustaining financing or a loopy philanthropist in the mix. It doesn't matter if it's open source journalism or not. (A more familiar alternative is the wannabe professional publication that promises payment but strings contributors along for months and months before payment is received, or simply screws them outright.) As such, I'm not shocked. T

The alternatives seem to be blogs/publications driven by advocacy or the self-interest of BIAs/commercial sectors. Whatever their achievements, they will always be somewhat compromised because of perception of bias (eg. promoting only those businesses that the publisher has a financial interest in, focusing light only on the areas of the city that serve to advance a defined agenda).

With everything increasingly boiled down to link love these days, I don't know that there's any clear avenue of escape from fast food media coverage. The theory around independent media is wonderful, but at some point you have to pay bils. That's why independents rise and fall on a regular basis. All examples of such locally are "extramural" ventures, viable mainly because of their creators' financial security and ready supply of spare hours. For all of its merits, a blog like RTH would have a hard time replicating its current content churn as a standalone private-sector publication that paid its contributors. (Apples an oranges, perhaps, bit The Huffington Post's whole business model seems to have amounted to selling a slave army of volunteer contributors to AOL... and that model was great for Ariana's bankbook but is riddled with holes: )

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By Inky Wretch (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2011 at 11:11:31 in reply to Comment 71442

"Spin, however, may be Huffington’s most impressive quality. The AOL ads that flooded the screens in the back of taxis since 2010 are not the only reason that the company has buzz; both she and Armstrong have been good at ignoring AOL’s falling stock price, which is down almost 38 percent this year, though ad sales were up 8 percent last quarter. AOL’s core business is still based on dial-up subscriptions, which are, clearly, completely doomed. In 2002, AOL had 35 million subscribers; today, it has about 3 million, and every year it loses about 30 percent of its base. Shockingly, a majority of those 3 million reportedly have cable or DSL and don’t realize that they don’t have to pay AOL for a subscription.....

The sale price, at $315 million, was highly speculative based on HuffPo’s current numbers. Huffington’s main business partner, Ken Lerer—the former AOL communication director, in fact, though he was pushed out during the Time Warner merger—made, reportedly, between $40 million and $60 million. According to a source, after the checks were written with AOL, he pulled his CEO, CFO, and most of the Huffington Post management team to his ventures, leaving AOL with Huffington, on her own. She did not put money into the website at the outset, and reportedly made $18 million.....

Eventually, about 30 of AOL’s content sections, like Politics Daily and Slashfood, were “integrated” into the Huffington Post, rebranded as HuffPo Politics or HuffPo Food. Employees began saying that there was no merger after all—they just put the two companies together and shut one down, and the net effect was that the company only got larger by about 20 percent.....

The future of AOL, though, is unclear: Though Armstrong maintains Patch will be successful (“It’s a risk worth taking”), it’s currently losing about $140 million a year, and there are weekly stories in the business press about AOL breaking up the company."

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2011 at 11:18:19 in reply to Comment 71528

Patch is an interesting creature. Can't say I'm a big fan.

What will be interesting is what's left in the wake of Patch?

Does it build a culture of local independent journalism with the former Patch editor as a major node in that network?

That's what I'm watching for in this story.

Thanks for your insightful posts. I miss Indymedia Hamilton. While I was an army guy back in those days and completely disagreed with most of the content, I did admire the hard work of the site and the insightful information it provided.

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By nobody cares (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2011 at 15:46:17

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 19, 2011 at 16:36:44 in reply to Comment 71450

this is your conclusion due to the demise of a poorly run online media source?? We've got our troubles, sure, but keep your head up. It ain't that bad.

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By nobody cares (anonymous) | Posted November 21, 2011 at 02:36:32 in reply to Comment 71452

My conclusion because it works in larger centres. It is basically the same, all the sites use the same model. It works in the larger cities but crashed here. What other conclusion can one come to?

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 22, 2011 at 19:33:04 in reply to Comment 71471

perhaps they should have thought about potential differences in a smaller market - they never advertised, didn't aggressively pursue stories, expected enough content to be dropped on their lap...were too much like the Spec but not good enough to draw their readers and not as good as RTH to draw it's readers. smaller city could mean a slight shift in the business model. I wouldn't just blame Hamilton and say there's no hope because someones' business idea failed. businesses fail in every city, every day.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 19, 2011 at 16:41:43

Given some of my own experiences attempting to organize a broader alternative media source here, dating back to Indymedia Hamilton, I'm left a little wary of the "franchise" model. There's a lot to be said for these networks, OpenFile, the Media Coop etc, but I see the success of Raise the Hammer as evidence that people here would prefer something that's locally focused first and nationally connected second.

Despite the failure of Openfile, the independent media situation in this town is still better than it has been in decades. No one site has come to the forefront yet and challenged the Spec or CH, but as voices in the crowd multiply, they're getting increasingly dim.

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By Not Boxing (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2011 at 17:39:10 in reply to Comment 71454

Indeed. The franchised nature of OF grated a bit, I think. (The same doesn't hold for the CBC, but that brand has some potent mythology going for it -- if their experiment disappoints, it will be on its own terms.) Social media has been a great lubricant but on the whole, I wish that there was more proactive work being done and less reactive work. The Spec still wields outsized influence when you think of how its coverage is repeated prismatically through resource-deprived outlets like CHML, CHCH, the blogosphere and so on. Then again, I think that most Hamiltonians are reasonably happy with the media status quo; if they want anything, it's not clear that it's more local news so much as more local information.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 21, 2011 at 14:37:43

I think a lack of advertising helped to kill OpenFile. I knew it was around and liked what I read but nothing was in my face to remind me to go visit during those crucial start-up months. Checking RTH is a habit for me now, OF never became pert of my net routine because I simply forgot it was there.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted November 23, 2011 at 21:10:06 in reply to Comment 71486

OF never became part of my net routine because I simply forgot it was there.


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By kendall (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2011 at 01:07:48

I fired off a condolence letter to OpenFile Chief Executive Officer Wilf Dinnick as follows, "I have to admit I am one of many who really didn’t know of your existence until it was too late. I’m not totally shocked that none of the traditional media gave your service any recognition, considering how scared of online news services they are. They may childishly discredit blogs and such as sights run by unprofessional and their content as unreliable. This in fact isn’t true, yours and many others offer another side of the truth that is missing from the mainstream sources. I hope your staff regroup and reconsider and give Hamilton another shot in the future." He replied quickly "We beat ourselves up, trying to save Hamilton. We think, of all cities, this should be working. Every other city is growing so fast. I also agree with your take on blogs, etc. However, I have to admit, if I was editing the Spec, at first blush, I would likely dismiss OpenFile. Too bad, too. We really are growing so fast and perhaps, when we come back, we will have more of a national brand that will help us next time around. We do plan to return but likely not for at least the next 6 months. When we do come back, I truly hope you will help make OpenFile the success it do deserves in that community." You shouldn't beat yourself up over the truth.

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