Banyan’s publishing platform will enable news co-ops to provide distinctive issue 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 civic networking spaces, in short, will be an online public square whose conversations are nourished by a co-op’s journalism. 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 engagement. 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 it. The aim will be to deal not just with digital sophisticates but with a huge population of regular folks, so its software must offer 99th-percentile ease of use.