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 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 threaten to get way worse:
“The last recession was brutal for newspapers and local news. The next one could be an extinction-level event.” These grim words were written by an executive of a trade association that supports local online news sites — before the pandemic pushed the economy off the cliff. Suddenly we have that next recession, and it’s the deepest in history.
So the need for new models for community journalism that can thrive in the digital future is more urgent than ever — and the Banyan Project is a robust response to this great need to rebuild democracy’s collapsing infrastructure. Our mission is to help seed independent news cooperatives in underserved communities, then support them with services tailored to help them succeed. Our goal is to build both civic health and strong and equitable local economies.
Understanding the need, Banyan took a strategic approach to find a new model that 1) delivers professionally edited and trustworthy news coverage; 2) sustains itself financially; 3) invites and empowers civic engagement and community spirit, and 4) is easily replicable, community by community, coast to coast.
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 stands apart from all existing news sites by offering distinctive digital tools that readers can use to create exceptional levels of civic engagement.
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 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 build their civic health.
- 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