We are pioneering a new
model for web journalism.
Local newspapers are shriveling, and the trustworthy news coverage that communities need for their civic and economic health is shriveling with them. Papers are dying far faster than digital news sites are taking root. This crucial pillar of democracy’s infrastructure is crumbling.
This makes the need more urgent than ever for new models for community journalism that can thrive in the digital future — and the Banyan Project is a robust response. Our mission is to help seed independent news cooperatives in underserved communities, then support them with services tailored to help them succeed. Success means not only restoring lost news coverage but also stirring greater community engagement than legacy models ever did.
Banyan took a strategic approach to find a new model that 1) delivers professionally edited and trustworthy news coverage; 2) invites and empowers exceptional levels of civic engagement, community spirit and people helping one another; 3) sustains itself financially in the Digital Age, and 4) is easily replicable, community by community, coast to coast.
The model that resulted is built on the long-proven foundation of consumer co-ops, with reader-members electing the boards of local news co-ops the way shoppers do in food co-ops and depositors do in credit unions — by one-member/one-vote democracy.
Vital Grassroots Community Institution
As Banyan has designed it, the news co-op is a vital grassroots community institution that makes its coverage free for all in the community to read.
The co-op’s heart is a lively digital public square where conversations are inspired and nourished by its news coverage — but the square is open only to members. The value of this engagement is what attracts a significant fraction of readers to become members — the more people care about the health of their community, the likelier they are to enroll.
The square is built into Banyan’s publishing platform and offers easy-to-use digital tools that Banyan has built to invite people to come together to explore issues, organize for constructive community change, find ways to help one another, and meet other community needs. In this process, communities discover their own distinctive grassroots voices.
The platform also invites members to offer feedback and news coverage ideas, helping the editors make decisions about coverage from the bottom up, not just from the experts down. This voluntary energy can significantly enrich news coverage — it’s the same kind of voluntary energy the web unleashes to fuel Wikipedia and much open-source software, only on a community scale.
Deep Engagement Leads to Virtuous Circle
This array of invitations to deep engagement sets Banyan apart from current news models, whose potential for engagement is much shallower. Banyan thus offers far greater value to attract prospective members.
A classic virtuous circle is the logical result: The more a news co-op helps its community advance, the more paying members it should attract, the more members it should retain from year to year, and the more members should be inspired to choose premium annual fee options.
The more revenue a co-op thus generates, the more powerful its journalism can be, and the more its community will advance — which should attract still more paying members, and on and on.
Our model has attracted interest from people in more than 50 communities from coast to coast and we have shaped business plans tailored for small cities or large suburbs, for clusters of small rural towns, and for the Black communities of big cities.
Fairness Baked into Co-op Model
Diversity, equity and inclusion are built into the co-op structure. The model’s grassroots nature opens the door wide to diversity — but diversity is not automatic; management care is needed. One-member/one-vote governance means equity of members no matter who the member is — and every member receives a small piece of tangible equity.
Further, Banyan’s model has a budget line for free scholarship-memberships to people who receive means-tested benefits such as food stamps. Inclusion? Think about the deep engagement the digital public square invites.
Each independent news co-op’s voting members will be hundreds or thousands of local readers, depending on community size. The editors will shape news coverage to serve the broad public of less-than-affluent everyday citizens we call the Banyan public, not just for the upscale people newspapers tend to cultivate. The co-ops’ revenue structure is designed to make them self-sustaining despite ominous advertising trends.
Banyan resources for new news co-ops will include a comprehensive guide for organizing a co-op, templates for business planning, and plans for enrolling founding members, all supported by Banyan staff guidance. Ongoing support will include moderated online forums for editors and executives, problem solving with Banyan staff help, and updates to the publishing platform.
In short, independent news co-ops that use Banyan’s model will be democracy-strengthening community institutions — of, by and for their communities.
Watch Banyan founder Tom Stites lay out the power of the Banyan idea.
As local newspapers fade, more and more communities across the U.S. are left with little or no trustworthy original reporting. This underscores the need for a new model for journalism that can revitalize the informed electorate and civic engagement that are the foundation of democracy. Read More
Banyan’s forward-looking model for independent local news co-ops combines several strategies with long track records, including consumer cooperatives, advertising-supported news, and peer networks. Read More
Day-to-day coverage of community institutions and happenings that co-op members and other readers experience as relevant, respectful and trustworthy — and that engage readers in the news effort and with one another to work for constructive community change. Read More