The Banyan Project aims to nourish the widest possible informed electorate and thus it aims for journalism that appeals to people from all walks of life. Banyan’s distinctive approach to community journalism will focus coverage on the needs of America’s everyday citizens — the half of the population who are neither affluent nor poverty-stricken, the people we call the Banyan Public.
This huge public is long abandoned by newspapers, which tend to focus on an audience heavy with professionals, executives and others who can afford to shop at upscale advertisers’ businesses. Members of the Banyan Public are likelier to be hourly wage earners or solo contractors and others who are self-employed, people who do much of their shopping at discounters that rarely advertise. They fall roughly within the third to seventh deciles of the household income distribution, with incomes in the $30,000-$75,000 range — and they are hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic challenges. Not many have much money to invest and most Americans without health insurance are in this group. They hunger for useful and trustworthy information that’s relevant to the particular life and citizenship decisions they face, but it grows ever more scarce despite the great need.
At the heart of the Banyan coverage vision is robust and trustworthy community coverage, from city hall to neighborhoods to business to school sports to the arts to the environment, with solid features that bring the community and its people alive and promote civic engagement. This should appeal to the affluent and the poor as well as the Banyan Public, but Banyan’s approach also includes useful reporting that helps the less-than-affluent deal with the life issues that press on them and their loved ones, such as personal finance, health and jobs.
Clay Shirky, a New York University professor and respected voice in the future-of-news discourse, emphasizes the question of how future journalism will serve average people.
“People like me are never going to be ill served in an information rich environment,” Shirky said after an appearance at Yale. The real question in a democracy, he said, is whether citizens will have access to accountability journalism — “journalism that keeps their town, their region, their state operating in relatively efficient, relatively responsive, and relatively non-corrupt ways.” He added, “What happens to the elite class of infovores, although it gets a lot of obsessive attention, is never going to be a problem.”