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OpenFile Still Not Giving up the Ghost

Wilf Dinnick, OpenFile's CEO, provides an update on his beleaguered online community-news network.

Dinnick's message appeared on OpenFile about six weeks ago.

It’s OpenFile deathwatch, week six. This latest update on the saga of the once-touted community-news company that operated websites in six cities before shutting down unexpectedly in September comes courtesy of J-Source, which has just published an interview with Wilf Dinnick, OpenFile‘s CEO. He says that yes, his company is having money problems, but no, it’s not dead.

OpenFile‘s farewell-for-now message, signed by Dinnick, said optimistically that business would resume after “a pretty big change over the next few weeks,” and that the company would be making “an announcement about this next phase very soon.” Until today, there had only been silence, but now Dinnick tells J-Source that there is, indeed, a plan.

OpenFile is pursuing custom content deals in which it would provide stories for websites of media companies, consumer brands, and other corporations,” writes J-Source‘s Kelly Toughill. So much for the “community-powered news” that was originally OpenFile‘s reason for being, and a key component in building its early buzz.

Nobody can blame Dinnick for wanting to earn a crust, but things get a little confusing when he starts talking about the business decisions that led to OpenFile‘s crisis. From the J-Source article:

“Things were a bit of a mess in the bookkeeping and we have to solve that obviously,” said Dinnick, who blamed money problems on growth and on an ambitious promise to pay freelancers within 30 days.

Too much growth, sure. OpenFile expanded to six Canadian cities after launching in Toronto, and it had a giant masthead. There were, at various times, city editors, curation editors, staff reporters, a social media editor, an editor-in-chief, and so on. This despite the fact that for most of its existence OpenFile published just one or two original articles per city, per day—alongside eight to 10 pieces of “curated” news from elsewhere.

Paying freelancers within 30 days is an “ambitious promise,” though? A lot of freelance writers would consider a four-week turnaround to be decent, sure, but not extraordinary. Inability to cut cheques with a month’s lead time would have to have been a symptom of some bigger issues. For instance, OpenFile‘s rates were very generous relative to what other online outlets pay—which would have been great had it turned out to be sustainable. (In the interest of disclosure, I should say that I wrote frequently for OpenFile for about two years, and I always found their payments to be prompt until a few months before the shutdown. Once, Dinnick even enclosed a signed note of apology with a late cheque.)

According to the article, most of OpenFile‘s bills are outstanding payments to freelancers, about 10 of whom are owed more than $500. Let’s hope they get what’s owed to them.

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