Our Challenge: Revitalizing Journalism and Mending Our Democracy
Banyan aims to revitalize journalism in ways that inspire and empower community engagement, thus helping to counteract three corrosive trends that pose threats to democracy:
Spreading news deserts: Communities with little or no reliable local reporting are proliferating as local newspapers shrivel and fail as the internet takes all advertising dollars except the crumbs — at least 2,100 local newspapers have died since 2004. Without news as nourishment, civic engagement starves, as does the informed electorate that’s so crucial to democracy at all levels. Many of the most arid news deserts are minority communities. Now political disinformation sites have sprung up in many news deserts, undermining civic coherence. Common sense — and democracy — demand entirely new business models.
An ill-served majority: Changes in retailing as well as advertising have left newspapers relying almost entirely on upscale retailers for advertising revenue; to keep what advertisers they have left, publishers have responded by tailoring content to attract upscale readers. Further, publishers have significantly raised subscription prices to offset collapsing ad revenue — even as they have reduced coverage. Readership decline began to accelerate well before the newspaper business model crashed, not surprisingly led by the less-than-affluent majority as their newspapers cost more and become less relevant to their lives. This has shrunk the informed electorate so that it is dominated by the well-off.
Distressing distrust: Polls consistently report slippage in the public’s trust of news providers, and political voices have worked to undermine journalism’s trustworthiness to the point that it has bottomed out — but polls show that people trust local news significantly more than national news.
All three of these trends are toxic to democracy. Banyan’s digital public square and community support are designed to help affiliated news co-ops minimize all of them, strengthening civic engagement and democracy in the process.