About The Banyan Project
The Banyan Project aims to strengthen democracy by helping seed community-scale Web journalism cooperatives in underserved communities, then supporting them so they can thrive and best serve the broad public of everyday citizens while engaging their civic energy.
Banyan will provide mentorship and educational, technical and administrative tools that will help new co-ops get started with a minimum of risk. Banyan will only support sites that agree to uphold the Banyan value proposition — to provide journalism that will be relevant to readers’ lives, respectful of them as people, and worthy of their trust — and to meet simple standards Banyan has set to help ensure success.
In addition to the Banyan’s model’s robust and trustworthy news coverage, it offers three novel dimensions:
Co-operative ownership: Banyan-model sites will be owned by hundreds or thousands of their readers, depending on the size of the community. Every member/owner gets a small amount of equity and one vote in their co-op’s annual meeting, akin to shoppers/owners of food co-ops and depositor/owners of credit unions.
Accountability and equity: Because news co-ops’ readers and owners are one and the same, editors are directly accountable to the readers, making for an inherently equitable and trustworthy relationship. Well-run co-ops’ members will be widely distributed in their community, meaning the site will be represent its racial and ethnic makeup.
Digital public square: Banyan’s publishing platform, which is tailored to power the co-op model, offers each news co-op’s community free access to all its reporting and information. In addition, members are able to engage with others in the distinctive digital public square that it has built into the platform. Members also get an array of other benefits.
Banyan’s seed was planted more than a decade ago in conversations among founder Tom Stites and friends who share a concern about the future of journalism. The conversation widened as a result of Stites’s keynote address at the 2006 Media Giraffe conference on journalism’s future, which drew more than 200 news executives, academics, researchers and bloggers. His speech, Is Media Performance Democracy’s Critical Issue?, drew more than 30,000 page views on the web. Two years later Stites pulled together the first members of Banyan’s advisory board and set up a wiki so people could see the concept unfold. The concept won a Game Changer award at the 2010 We Media conference, and then Stites was named a 2010-11 fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where he shaped the Banyan model and gained expert counsel from the community of fellows and from law and business professors.
Banyan is now pursuing multiyear funding to staff up and meet democracy’s needs by launching at least 20 news co-ops over three years.
The Banyan Board of Advisors has grown to include 32 senior journalists, academics, web developers, sociologists and researchers, business and financial strategists, and advocates for strengthening democracy.