The Narwhal launches new Ontario bureau

Our new three-person environmental journalism team will be led by Denise Balkissoon and driven by the in-depth reporting of Fatima Syed and Emma McIntosh

It’s official: The Narwhal is launching a three-person environmental journalism bureau in Ontario this month, after receiving overwhelming support from Ontarians — including nearly 10,000 people who signed up to support our non-profit online magazine’s expansion eastward.

The new team will be led by Ontario bureau chief Denise Balkissoon, an award-winning journalist who joins The Narwhal after serving as executive editor of Chatelaine. Previously, Balkissoon worked as a columnist and editor at The Globe and Mail. 

“I find it impressive how quickly The Narwhal has made a name for itself covering one of the most complicated and important beats in journalism,” Balkissoon said. “The chance to lead a new team challenged with bringing that energy to Ontario is very exciting.”

The Narwhal has arrived in Ontario!

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In 2020, Balkissoon gave the Atkinson lecture, speaking about the concept of objectivity in journalism and how it can sometimes prevent important stories from being told.

As bureau chief, Balkissoon will bring The Narwhal’s unique brand of non-profit, ad-free, reader-funded journalism to Canada’s most populous province. 

“Journalism as a whole needs to find new ways to fund meaningful reporting, but despite how urgent the problem is, there’s been a real lack of risk-taking and innovation in Canada,” Balkissoon said. “I’ve always believed that audiences are smarter and hungrier than legacy media gives them credit for, and it’s been nice to watch The Narwhal run with that idea, and succeed.”

Rounding out the Ontario team will be a dynamic duo of agenda-setting reporters: Fatima Syed and Emma McIntosh.

Syed has written blockbuster reporting on the pandemic for Toronto-based non-profit news outlet The Local and hosts the Canadaland politics podcast The Backbench. She has also previously reported for The Toronto Star and National Observer, as well as being a highly sought after news analyst during the federal election campaign.

“The role of climate journalism has evolved to not just document the unfolding emergency of our lifetime but to also seek to stop the greatest catastrophe humanity has ever faced,” Syed said. “No one does that better in Canadian journalism than The Narwhal by investing in deep, solutions-oriented, beautifully told stories about the ways the climate crisis is impacting communities across Canada.”

Fatima Syed and Emma McIntosh pose for a portrait
Dynamic journalism duo Fatima Syed and Emma McIntosh is joining The Narwhal and bringing with them a wealth of investigative reporting experience. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

McIntosh worked previously as an investigative reporter at the Toronto Star and most recently as Queen’s Park reporter at Canada’s National Observer. In 2019, McIntosh’s investigation into an oilsands leak that affected Fort McKay First Nation won a Canadian Association of Journalists’ award for human rights reporting.

“While other outlets fail to take more than a cursory look at environmental stories or abandon the beat altogether, The Narwhal is investing more in holding decision-makers accountable,” McIntosh said. “The care and thoughtfulness this team infuses into its stories is clear in every line, every photo and every quote. I’m thrilled to bring this style of work to Ontario, where investigative scrutiny on climate issues is sorely needed.”

The Narwhal was founded in B.C. in 2018 by Emma Gilchrist and Carol Linnitt. In 2021, the online magazine won 10 national journalism awards, ranging from a World Press Freedom award to a Canadian Association of Journalists’ award for photojournalism to a gold for general excellence from the Digital Publishing Awards. 

In March 2021, The Narwhal became Canada’s first English-language Registered Journalism Organization, which enables the organization to issue tax receipts and to receive donations from charitable foundations. The Narwhal is committed to harnessing the power of journalism to bridge divides, helping to create a world in which a diverse and growing chorus of people are inspired to hold power to account.

Runway funding for the Ontario bureau was provided by three philanthropic foundations: the McConnell Foundation, the Metcalf Foundation and the Echo Foundation.

“We are very pleased to support The Narwhal,” said Lili-Anna Pereša, President and CEO of the McConnell Foundation. “Their practice of complicating the narrative fosters dialogue by building understanding and empathy for multiple perspectives. The McConnell Foundation believes that addressing climate urgency requires bridge-building in order to develop common understanding. It’s why we are a proud partner of The Narwhal and we look forward to their enhanced Ontario coverage.”

Denise Balkissoon poses for a portrait in Toronto
Canadian journalism heavyweight Denise Balkissoon is bringing her award-winning skills to The Narwhal as our new Ontario bureau chief. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

Metcalf Foundation first supported The Narwhal in 2020 when it funded the award-winning Carbon Cache series and jumped at the opportunity to support the publication’s expansion.

“We’ve watched The Narwhal pioneer a thriving new model for public-interest journalism in western Canada and are excited to help bring their thoughtful investigative reporting on environmental issues to Ontario,” said Sandy Houston, president and CEO of Metcalf Foundation. “The Narwhal has done a tremendous job of attracting a loyal audience that’s keen to support its journalism and we’re thrilled to help catalyze the creation of a robust bureau in Ontario.”

Philanthropic support for journalism, which is at the heart of much award-winning and public-interest media in the U.S., is a relatively new endeavour in Canada, with changes to allow non-profit news outlets to accept charitable donations only coming into force in the past year. 

“Our Ontario expansion is a beautiful example of what’s possible when foundations show leadership by recognizing the essential role of journalism in a healthy democracy,” said Gilchrist, executive director and editor-in-chief of The Narwhal. “Our editorial independence policy ensures our news judgments are made independently, so readers can continue to rely on us for fearless, independent journalism.”

The Narwhal is supported by more than 3,500 monthly members who voluntarily contribute $14 per month on average. Together, The Narwhal’s members contribute close to $50,000 each month, which enables our team to pursue in-depth stories of consequence without regard for ad revenues or shareholders. 

“We are incredibly excited to serve Ontarians with the news they need about the climate crisis and our relationships with the natural world,” Gilchrist said. “We know from our experience in the West that once we start producing award-worthy stories, readers are willing to pay for quality journalism.”

The Narwhal’s vision is to scale its model for award-winning, in-depth and investigative coverage of the natural world to every region in Canada over the next five years. 

“We hope this announcement is the first of many,” Gilchrist said.

New title

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And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).

As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired five journalists over the past year.

Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 4,200 members

The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.

We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.

If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.

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