Our Challenge: Revitalizing Journalism and Mending Our Democracy

The Project aims to revitalize journalism in ways that nourish civic 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 are undermined by tectonic shifts in the market for advertising that has long provided their dominant revenue stream. Newspapers have lost more than half of their advertising revenue and cut their editorial staffs by half in a decade. On top of that, the promise that citizen journalists and web news sites would come to the rescue has proven spotty, and local newspapers are dying faster than online sites are taking root. Without news as nourishment, civic engagement starves — as does the informed electorate that’s so crucial to democracy at all levels. The most arid news deserts tend to be minority communities. 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. 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 institutions, which took a drubbing during the 2016 election — a loss of 8 percentage points in a year. 

All three of these trends are toxic to democracy. Banyan’s educational tools and support are designed to help affiliated news co-ops minimize all of them, strengthening civic engagement and democracy in the process.

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The Banyan Project is a nonprofit organization founded from the thinking of 31 senior journalists, academics, Web developers, sociologists and researchers, business and financial strategists, and advocates for strengthening democracy brought together by Tom Stites. Members of this Board of Advisors are listed below; click on names to see bios.

Stites shaped Banyan's model as a fellow of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He is now helping a committee of community leaders who are organizing Haverhill Matters, the nation's first community Web news co-op in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Read more about Banyan Project.

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