The Editor-in-Chief of Daily Hive isn’t a writer, but he’s business savvy, and that might just count more in today’s changing media landscape
Christine Beyleveldt, Editor-in-Chief
Cynthia Tran Vo, Illustrator
Farhan Mohamed flitted between art and criminology after high school, but longed to study business. It wasn’t until a friend pointed out that he had a knack for social media that he started to look at other avenues. He realized that social media is more than just creating personal connections – it’s about brand development. During his time in university, social media was quickly shaping the way we live our lives and digest journalism, and he knew how to use it to his advantage. A decision left to fate took him to Capilano University, where he aggressively pursued his desire to study business. He joined the Marketing Association as an extracurricular and, as he says, the rest is history.
Today, Mohamed is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Hive, one of the most popular online-only publications in Canada, and chair of CapU’s Alumni Association. He’s always firmly believed in having a strong community connection – which is what has allowed Daily Hive to succeed. Recently, he spoke with the Capilano Courier about his ties with the community and how he navigates the ever-changing media landscape.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
You mentioned having a life-changing moment when you moved over from SFU. What happened?
Out of high school, I wanted to do business, but I never had the grades for it. I was so focused on everything outside of school in high school. I was doing a lot of volunteering and pretty much a whole ton of community service, and so that’s where my passion was – in the community. Out of school, I ended up at SFU… I went into criminology, I didn’t really know what I was doing but I liked CSI and realized that you needed a science degree to become a criminologist so that wasn’t going to be a move I was going to make.
Then at the end of 2010, a friend approached me and said “you’re big on social media… can you do a whole bunch of social media and help me get youth involved in a campaign if I’m running in the election?” I’d always wanted to get into politics, so I said sure, and I ended up helping him launch his nomination campaign and all of his social accounts. I took over his online campaign and within a matter of weeks [was] into a full-fledged federal election campaign and it was a ton of fun. That really opened my mind up… and a friend approached me while I was working on the campaign and said: “why don’t you do this for life?”
I left it to fate, I applied to university in Ottawa and applied to Cap and said, “If we win, I’ll switch schools, I’ll move to Ottawa, I will have, most likely, a job in a big office in Ottawa. And if I lose, I’ll go to Cap and get my business degree.” And we ran a campaign but ended up losing, so I went to Cap and it was the greatest.
Can you tell me more about how you were involved with youth in high school?
Probably one of the best things that I did was realize what my friend group needed to do [that] one summer. We didn’t have anywhere to turn to, but we loved playing basketball, so I started a basketball league and ran it for two summers.
We had upward of 60 people who were playing and we were anywhere in the range of 14 to 16, 17 years old. The entire summer we would have games every weekend at the local mosque. It wasn’t set out for basketball but there were nets, so we would put tape down on the floor, we got people to pay a little bit and we got jerseys and scorekeepers and [referees], it was like a proper league.
It turned into something that was really cool and it was all because… we needed good things to do rather than getting up to mischief. So I wanted to do something for the community and that was it.
You’re only as strong as your community is. Whether that’s online, offline, that’s something that you have to bridge. You have to bring people together. Everyone shares their experiences or interests… the community is what I’m about today, and it’s really helped me career-wise.
How did you get involved while you were at CapU?
I was doing Daily Hive, formerly Vancity Buzz, while I was in school. And what all these associations showed me was that you could do whatever you wanted while you were in university. To me, university is that time where – you’re in your late teens and early twenties – your risk is so low that you can do pretty much anything you want. So I tried to do that. I filled my days in such a way that I could go to classes, I could go to whatever association meetings and I could also do work. Back then it was free work but it was still work and passion projects. And so I used that time to do as much as I can with this short amount of time we have. I think a lot of people don’t realize that.
You’ve had some experience working with the Vancouver Sun and with Daily Hive – the age-old question is: do you need to go to J-school to have a career in media?
Short answer no. Between myself and my partners, none of us went to journalism school. We’re all business grads. I think now – my role and what I do – is very much around how do we build the business.
We do have people on the team who are journalists… I think that what journalism school does is really help you get that understanding of what to do and what not to do, [and if] you come into an organization like ours we’ll use that, but we’ll also test and push you a little bit further. You have to think in this online world today, what is it that people want? How are they consuming it? It’s no longer the days of the newspaper where everyone is picking up a story and reading whatever you give them. Now they have hundreds and hundreds of headlines in front of them every single day, and it’s up to them what they want to read. So the tables have turned 180 degrees and you have to be thinking about things in a very different way.
How would you say the culture of the Vancouver Sun differs from Daily Hive?
That was a very different experience for me. I was with a company that had been around for more than a century [and] they did things in a very certain way. They were unionized. They felt they needed to go for breaks at a certain time and do things at a certain time, and that’s how they operated.
I think the biggest thing is they didn’t see the change coming, and they didn’t adapt fast enough. The biggest difference, I wouldn’t even say between our two organizations, but the biggest difference between traditional [media and those] that are taking over today, is that we are always looking at different ways to change. At any given time I have analytics up on my screen. We publish a story or we post a video and people aren’t engaging with it or aren’t clicking on it, they’re not reading it, then there’s something wrong with that. So we’re looking at what is the reason they’re not engaging with this. Is it the headline, is it the image, is it the caption, is it the timing, is it the time of day, is it the city, is it the theme, is it the topic.
It’s not one-dimensional anymore. There are so many factors that it’s almost like a science that you have to understand. You have to understand everything about people and what they’re doing. It’s more than just writing and publishing and posting stuff on social, or shooting and editing a video every day. Everything has changed.
You said in an interview with The Runner at KPU that Vancity Buzz started out as a blog. What was your vision when you went in and how has it morphed over the years?
It was 100 per cent a blog in the beginning. [We were] writing about the city, culture, things to do. When I came in it was still very much a small team that would meet once a week for a couple hours, and we would talk about things we wanted to write about and what stories we were interested in.
The biggest change came right around 2013-2014 when we realized that there was an appetite for things that were a little more community-focused or community-based. We would write a story later than other outlets, yet ours was performing better and would have more social engagement, and so we started to morph it. We started doing original reporting to get our own sources and break stories, and we got to the point where we are today, and we will be the first to publish a story and then everyone else jumps on it after we do.
We really shifted in that way [and] we had to look at it in a way of is this important? Will people look at it from a local angle? Are we ourselves creating content that we want to engage with? That we want to read or we want to watch? That’s the baseline barometer with our team. If we are creating something that we are not going to click on and read, then why are we creating it? And so we started to ask those types of questions.
What connection do you have to your alma mater through the Alumni Association?
During my time at Cap I always wanted to get involved with more things. The trouble was I only had a short amount of time. Before you knew it, it was done. It’s been a really cool opportunity to try to give back and to try to showcase that this is where things started. And I feel oftentimes when it comes to universities – and I only use my own experience in this way – that Cap for me was that life-changing experience. Had I not gone to Cap maybe I would’ve still been at SFU, maybe I would’ve gone over to Ottawa. My life wouldn’t be where it is today. [And] I know many many peers of mine who are in that same boat.
In 2015, Calgary Buzz was launched as a first iteration outside Vancouver. As Mohamed received more and more requests to expand the Buzz, the team instead decided to rebrand the online-only publication as Daily Hive. Daily Hive covered the provincial election in BC last year extensively, publishing over 250 articles about the political circus. But he still doesn’t consider himself a writer.
This article was updated on Nov. 7 to reflect that the Daily Hive published 250 articles pertaining to the provincial election. Previously it stated that 150 were published.