Our Pilot: Haverhill Matters

A group of community leaders in Haverhill, Massachusetts, have incorporated the nation's first online news co-op, piloting the Banyan model. Banyan’s first affiliate will launch news coverage in 2018 as Haverhill.Matters.coop.

  Leaders in three other communities are poised to organize Banyan-model sites, and people in more than 20 other communities have expressed interest. Sites in other cities will follow the same subdomain naming scheme, e.g. Oshkosh.Matters.coop.

  The Haverhill Matters board has optimized Banyan's launch approach for its community and, as it builds its membership to the level that will support hiring the staff and launching news coverage, it will do a soft launch with a comprehensive community calendar of events -- information the community is clamoring for.

  Banyan's basic launch plan has four stages; each is expected to undergo several iterations in response to learnings from the the ways the public engages and responds to the pilot and subsequent sites.

  Stage I The first step toward a pilot site was to bring together the organizing committee, which was made up of community leaders concerned about the deep erosion of reliable community journalism in their city of 61,000 people. Most are leaders of local institutions with large constituencies. To fuel the launch, committee members have agreed to promote founding co-op memberships and to open doors for sales of sponsorship advertising to community-spirited local businesses and organizations.

  Stage II This began with the launch of a preliminary website that includes promotional text, a promotional video, and a page where people can enroll as founding members. Organizing committee members and other founding members are sponsoring promotional events and presentations. The co-op is poised to do a soft launch with a comprehensive calendar of community events, which the city lacks. The Stage II objectives are to establish the project’s credibility among Haverhill’s early adopters and influencers; to convert as many as possible to be founding members and advocates; capture names and email addresses of interested people, and enroll as many as possible as founding members. The information this stage generates will be invaluable in helping design the presentation of Stage III.

  Stage III This will be the “grand opening” of Haverhill Matters, designed to draw the entire community into engagement with the co-ops’s efforts. In this stage the website will present a four-stage crowdsourced reporting project as its centerpiece feature. This project will offer promotion opportunities at every stage, give the community a way to take part and otherwise experience the collaborative nature of Banyan-model journalism, and yield a major piece of journalism of significance to the community. As a promotion device, the crowdsourcing project is designed to offer repeated occasions to fuel viral spread of engagement with Haverhill.Matters. Organizing Committee members will kick this off by urging their constituencies to engage with the project; at the same time, people who offered their names in Stage II will be asked to urge their friends to join the fun. As the list of names builds, the co-op leaders will set up and promote in-person events that will deepen engagement and yield still more names and prospective members. When the crowdsourced reporting project is published, a vivid link in the presentation will urge readers to click to join forces with others in the software’s civic engagement space to use its digital tools to organize for constructive community change on the issue the project addresses — and to invite others to join in. The presentation will also make a formal ask for memberships. Learnings from the Stage III experience will be hugely helpful in designing the presentation of Stage IV.

  Stage IV It’s roll-out time: the staff will begin work, and day-to-day community news coverage will begin. A fresh crowdsourcing project will be set in motion and the civic engagement spaces will be introduced as a fundamental aspect of Haverhill Matters that reinforces its character as a community-stregthening cooperative institution. In addition to inviting readers into conversations about crowdsourced features, the editors will propose questions of community interest every week and invite people to click into the civic networking space and work for constructive change. These additions will open new doors for continually attracting still more community members to engage with the site—and to become members. Stage IV will continue to build site engagement and membership numbers, generating revenue enough not just to sustain but to thrive.

  Crowdsourced Reporting Project

  Stage I—Welcome people to Haverhill Matters in the main story and invite them to nominate ideas for reporting projects that could make the biggest constructive change in their city, focused on what’s needed rather than on malfeasance. The deadline for ideas would be three weeks from the day the site goes live, after energetic promotion and viral spread yields enough ideas to offer a serious choice.

  Stage II—Replace the initial story with one in the same space that asks community members to cast a vote for the idea they think would do the most good, and to ask their friends to do the same; this will be an occasion for another round of promotion from the Organizing Committee and other advocates, plus emails to addresses captured in Stage I. The promotions will urge people to come to the site, read all the ideas, and vote for their favorite.

  Stage III—Replace the Stage II story with one that announces the community’s reporting project choice and urges community members to send in any information, photos, video, etc., that would help the reporting effort; this would be the occasion for still another round of promotion, announcing the winning idea and urging all in the community to submit info. The main story would explain that all the ideas will prove of great value to the way Haverhill Matters reports about the community in the future; it will also include a link to click through to a page showing the votes cast for each idea.

  As soon as the winning idea is announced, the reporter (a seasoned freelancer or a volunteer with significant professional experience) will go to work on the story.

  Stage IV: The reporter’s finished effort is published in the main space, with an invitation for readers to click into a civic engagement forum whose goal is to get readers learning from and working with one another while working to bring about the constructive change in whatever area the project explored. This will be occasion for still another round of promotion—and a direct request for memberships and for donations to support major reporting projects like this one, which will be a recurring aspect of Banyan-affiliated co-op news sites. Further, the site will promote an off-line meetup for people interested in trying to bring about constructive change in the area the reporting explored. (This would have to be facilitated.)

Related Marketing Tools

  • A prominent box on every page whose aim is to seduce readers to click through to a landing page that tells about the co-op and its benefits, asks people what they think their community needs and how Haverhill.Matters could help, and asks readers to sign up as co-op members. One approach would be a dynamic display that rotates provocative questions about the nature of Haverhill Matters and invites people to click to get the answer.
  • Testimonial
  • Viral tools that readers can use to invite other people to the co-op’s site.


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The Banyan Project is a nonprofit organization founded from the thinking of 30 senior journalists, academics, Web developers, sociologists and researchers, business and financial strategists, and advocates for strengthening democracy brought together by Tom Stites. Members of this Board of Advisors are listed below; click on names to see bios.

Stites shaped Banyan's model as a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He is now helping a committee of community leaders who are organizing Haverhill Matters, the nation's first community Web news co-op in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Read more about Banyan Project.