We are pioneering a new model for web journalism.
In this disruptive age of the internet, local newspapers are dying faster than community web news sites are taking root. News deserts are spreading, and as reliable news coverage dries up, so does civic engagement. Because an informed and engaged electorate is the crucial seedbed for democracy, this ominous trend cries out for new models for community journalism that can thrive in the digital future.
The Banyan Project is a robust response to democracy's urgent call. It is civic entrepreneurship whose mission is to seed independent community news cooperatives based on a multifaceted new model, then support affiliated sites with quality services so they can succeed.
Banyan's pioneering model is built on the sturdy foundation of consumer co-op ownership, with hundreds of reader-members who hold equity and elect the boards of local news co-ops the way shopper-members do in food co-ops. In this era of distancing and distrust, the co-op form offers two distinct advantages over other approaches to web journalism: 1) engagement is baked into the model, in that ownership is as deep as engagement gets, and 2) co-ops provide the most trustworthy of all ownership forms, strengthening the trustworthiness of the co-ops' journalism. Further, news co-ops provide their members a hands-on exercise in direct democracy: the members elect the boards who hire the editor.
Banyan's new model is easily replicable, meaning that Banyan is designed to scale the way food co-ops and credit unions scaled—community by community, coast to coast.
Independent Banyan-affiliated news co-ops will be led professionally and governed democratically through one-member/one-vote election of directors, as are co-ops of all kinds. Their revenue structure is designed to ensure that the the co-ops thrive even as newspapers wither. And the co-ops' journalism will be free for all to read so these community institutions can serve the broad public of less-than-affluent everyday citizens, not just the upscale people newspapers tend to cultivate.
Banyan's services to its affiliates will include a comprehensive guide for creating a news co-op, templates for business planning, and techniques for enrolling founding members, all supported by Banyan staff guidance. Post-launch staff support includes problem solving and moderated online forums.
At the core of Banyan's services is a software platform tailored for affiliated news co-ops. Banyan’s staff will help affiliates make the most of the platform's distinctive features, which are designed to amplify the impact of their journalism, enrich civic engagement and build co-op membership:
- Civic engagement tools that invite readers to join with others and work for constructive community change, making it easy for communities to find and express their voices—and to strengthen their civic health.
- Editorial collaboration tools that make it comfortable and gratifying for readers to contribute to the news process. This will attract voluntary energy that can significantly expand the scope of coverage possible with a small staff -- it's the same kind of voluntary energy the Web unleashes to fuel Wikipedia and open source software, only on a community scale.
- Membership cultivation tools that help readers understand the value that their local news co-op adds to their lives and their communities, then make it easy for them to act on their understanding by enrolling as co-op members. The tools will also automate "renewals" -- the payment of annual membership fees -- and provide analysis of members' actions.
In short, independent news co-ops that follow Banyan's model will be democracy-strengthening community institutions—of, by and for their communities.