We are pioneering a new
model for web journalism.
Local newspapers are shriveling, and the trustworthy news coverage and information that communities need for their civic and economic health are shriveling with them. Papers are dying far faster than online news efforts are taking root, and, according to an essay published by the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, things could get a lot worse:
“The last recession was brutal for newspapers and local news. The next one could be an extinction-level event.” These words were written by an executive of a trade association that supports local online news sites. Already at least 1,300 communities have lost all news coverage since 2004. News deserts abound.
So new models for community journalism that can thrive in the digital future are crucial to rebuilding democracy’s collapsing infrastructure — and the nonprofit Banyan Project is a robust response to this urgent need. Our mission is to help seed independent community news cooperatives, then support their success by providing them with quality mentorship and educational, technical and administrative support. Our goal is to build both civic health and strong and equitable local economies.
The reason news deserts are spreading so fast is that existing online community news models tend to work well in affluent places but rarely prove sustainable elsewhere — so to date newspapers have been dying far faster than community web news efforts have been taking root.
Understanding this, Banyan took a strategic approach to find a new model that 1) delivers professionally edited and trustworthy news coverage; 2) are self-sustaining; 3) invite and empower civic engagement and community spirit, and 4) are easily replicable.
The model that resulted is built on the sturdy 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. The news co-op, as Banyan has designed it, is a vital grassroots community institution that’s easily replicable from community to community, the way food co-ops and credit unions spread from coast to coast.
Each independent news co-op’s voting members will be hundreds of local readers — thousands in larger communities. The co-ops will be led professionally and governed democratically through one-member/one-vote election of directors, as are co-ops of all kinds. The news co-op revenue structure is designed to make them self-sustaining despite ominous advertising trends. And their journalism will be free for all to read so they can serve the broad public of the less-than-affluent everyday citizens we call the Banyan public, not just the upscale people newspapers tend to cultivate.
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 staff support will include problem solving and moderated online forums for site editors.
Banyan will also provide affiliated sites with a digital publishing platform tailored for community news co-ops. Banyan’s staff will help sites make the most of distinctive software features designed to amplify their journalism’s impact:
- Civic engagement tools that invite readers to come together in issue forums to work for constructive community change, making it easy for communities to find their voices—and to strengthen their civic infrastructure.
- Comfortable and gratifying ways for readers to collaborate with the editors will attract voluntary energy that can significantly expand the scope of coverage possible with a small staff. This is the same kind of voluntary energy the Web unleashes to fuel Wikipedia and open source software, only on a community scale.
In short, independent news co-ops that follow 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 crumble, 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
Haverhill Matters, Banyan’s pilot affiliate in Haverhill, Massachusetts, plans to launch news coverage later in 2019. Read More