Sources of Revenue

An important and distinctive source of revenue for independent community news co-ops can be a continuing stream of members’ annual membership payments. This added stream is what can set the news co-ops apart from other community Web journalism efforts, only a scattering of which have proven sustainable to date.

Web-based news co-ops are just emerging in the Unites States but reader-owned cooperatives have long published newspapers in the UK, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Mexico, and there are listener-owned co-op radio stations in Canada.

Co-ops can also rely on advertising revenue and can engage in crowdfunding and seek foundation grants. As the co-ops mature some should be able to draw from ancillary sales.

What sets the news co-op revenue model apart from that of all other Web journalism efforts is what it monetizes: The co-ops’ news, free to all, will serve as a magnet to readers, and readers who place enough value on the co-op’s civic contribution and other benefits can then be enrolled as paying co-op members.

Memberships—The co-op model rests on the premise that a significant fraction of co-ops’ readers will become members. Basic memberships fees are envisioned at $36 a year, which works out to a dime a day, and family memberships at $60 a year. Other membership levels could range upward to $500 a year.

Advertising—This too should be a significant stream. Because news co-ops will be community institutions, advertising will be limited to local businesses. One important form of advertising would be sponsorships by the community’s major businesses and institutions. In addition, the committee that’s organizing what will be the nation’s first community Web news co-op, in Haverhill, Mass., is considering a special category of co-op membership for sponsoring businesses that would gain them a directory listing, an advertising discount and other benefits.

Crowdfunding—The idea of getting readers to chip in together to fund a reporting project has proven crucial to journalism projects in many communities from coast to coast that use Kickstarter and similar Web crowdfunding platforms. The Haverhill co-op plans to explore crowdfunding of specific enterprise reporting projects directly through the software Banyan supplies, drawing contributions from readers with an interest in the issue the project will address.

Grants—Some co-ops will seek grants from local funders for special projects.

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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.