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Linda Solomon Wood on why she started Vancouver Observer

Why did you start Vancouver Observer?

I saw an opportunity in Vancouver for a new publication, a publication that would reflect the depth of the city.  Although there were many great writers and reporters in town, I didn't get the kind of writing in the local newspapers that I loved reading.  I thought, let me try to create this kind of publication from scratch.  I wasn't sure I could do it, or how to do it.  My experience at that point was only as a writer, not a businessperson or an editor.  But that's what made it interesting: there was so much to learn.

Also, from the beginning of my career as a journalist, I wanted to be in charge of what stories I reported on an published, but back then, owning your own publication was only for the mega-rich.   Of course, that was before the Internet.

How did you start?

I bought the domain name on GoDaddy and my friend, Barry Saxifrage, a former Microsoft programmer, built a publishing platform for me. He volunteered his time managing the site and I just started publishing one day with a story I wrote about going to the baseball game with my then two young sons.

I was amused by the fact that my audience consisted literally of family and friends.  I liked the fact that I was speaking to people I really knew, not an anonymous crowd of thousands or millions, but real people I loved. I wrote as if I was speaking directly to them.  That gave meaning to the experience. 

It didn't seem clear that it would ever become more than that. At that point, it was just an experiment.  It had no funding, or budget.

Barry's advice to me was to let it grow organically, and I did.

How did it grow?

I had been teaching writing for years and through my workshops had met numerous writers in British Columbia.  They began posting on Vancouver Observer just because it was an easy and open door to publication.  Then I met a professor of media studies at a local university and he asked if I would be open to working with interns from his classes.  I said yes and a smart and interesting stream of young writers began working with me.  Our deal was that I would coach them along in their careers and they would give me their stories.

Where was your office?

In my home.  We worked around my dining room table.  More volunteers came form more universities and in those first years, I think I must have worked with a few hundred students.

How was it?

Those were very fun days.

What were the biggest challenges?  Next...


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