Digital Public Square

Banyan’s publishing platform will enable news co-ops to provide distinctive digital forums that are a welcoming and trustworthy environment for readers to find others in their community who care about the same issues, learn from each other and from other resources, and organize to take action for constructive community change.  These networking spaces, in short, will be a digital public square whose conversations are nourished by a co-op’s journalism — and a virtual space where people can come together to help one another and others who are in need. These, along with other civic-engagement tools Banyan has built into its platform, are what makes Banyan news co-ops into community institutions and not just news websites.

These spaces will also be a petri dish to grow the spread of co-op membership: Many who find value in news co-ops’ journalism will use the software’s handy tools to tell their friends about it, and many who enter its community will invite their friends to join them. The deeper readers’ engagement, the likelier they are to become co-op members — a huge incentive for affiliated co-ops to create the most welcoming, safest and easiest-to-use digital community possible: Trustworthiness is the key to inviting people to share and collaborate voluntarily with others—people withdraw their voluntary energy if they don’t trust the environment.

So to leave comments or engage in the community, readers agree to conform to a pledge of constructive behavior such as use of real names, as people do in real-world civic gatherings. The software will include a system for flagging offensive behavior that editors can review. The goal is to ensure that readers’ full range of experiences with the sites — not just with the journalism — fit the value proposition of relevance, respect and trustworthiness.

The platform will harness up-to-date best practices of high-functioning and engaged Web communities — and Banyan will strive always to improve on this. The aim will be to deal not just with digital sophisticates but with a huge population of regular folks, so its platform must offer 99th-percentile ease of use.

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The Banyan Project is built on the thinking and experience of 32 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.

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