Headquartered in St. Thomas, the business is run by consultant Andrew Gunn, who is the owner and general editor, plus four high school students, Jenn Klassen, Maddie King, Alex Popen, and Emily Stage. Together, the young & free press team cover news and events in southwestern Ontario with a particular focus on St. Thomas, London, Norfolk County, Brantford, Hamilton, Waterloo, Stratford, and Huron County. Andrew, Jenn, Maddie, Alex and Emily explore arts and culture, local food and drink, sports, agriculture, and more! All this happens from the youth perspective (with a bit of a subversive streak, always pushing for new ideas and opportunities).
How did all this start? Well, Andrew volunteered with a Thames Valley District School Board program in 2017-18, and had the task of connecting students to real-life businesses and experiences in the London & St. Thomas area. Along the way, he noticed the decline of local news and event coverage, the lack of interest in community stuff amongst the students, and decided to challenge the students to develop a media platform in which teenagers could be the journalists. The community embraced the idea, sponsors came on board, and suddenly the concept looked more like a private-sector business than a student project.
Late in August 2018, the team decided to take the leap, develop the young & free press brand, and get to work as journalists and entrepreneurs! Andrew made the media outlet a division of his consulting firm, which focusses on working with donors and sponsors to fund, manage and sustain innovative community projects. Jenn, Maddie, Alex and Emily really embraced their roles, and along with reporting on news and events, they assist also as ‘youth consultants’ on a variety of initiatives around the region. Right now, there is a lot of talk about the need to ‘engage youth’ at the local level – well, we wanted to make this happen in a fresh, distinctive way, and we’re just getting started! We produce concerts and events, manage community projects, and have sideline pursuits, including photography, fashion design, and psychogeography.