How News Co-ops Launch
Banyan-model news co-ops will launch with resources and guidance from Banyan that aim to ensure the new site’s success.
What follows is a short version of an extensive launch plan in Banyan’s meticulous and comprehensive business plan. The plan was created by Tom Stites, Banyan’s founder, working with board members and advisors, and with Harvard business and law professors when he was a fellow of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. At least as important was a dedicated group of volunteers in Haverhill, Mass., who experimented with the co-op model and in the process found ways to refine Stites’s plan. Request a copy of the plan here.
Stage I The first step toward starting a new news co-op, from scratch or by converting an existing news site, is to bring together an organizing committee made up of community leaders — largely leaders of respected local institutions with large constituencies — who are concerned about the deep erosion of reliable journalism serving their community.
Stage II The organizing effort begins with launch of a preliminary website that includes promotional text, a promotional video, and a page where people can express interest and/or enroll as founding members. This stage’s objectives are to establish the project’s credibility among the community’s early adopters and influencers; capture names and email addresses of interested people, and convert as many as possible to become founding members and advocates. The organizing committee incorporates as a co-op under its state law, then shortly begins community service — and credibility building — by launching a minimum viable product: a comprehensive calendar of community events or other much-needed information service that will become a permanent part of the co-op’s site. Meanwhile, the leaders will be working to find a source for a $25,000 matching grant to be paid when the founding member list reaches 50. The grant and 50 membership payments will make it possible to hire a professional co-op organizer and speed founding member growth to 500 members. Reaching this goal will accumulate enough initial capital to hire the staff, and this is the end point of Stage II, as Stage III begins when the staff is hired and news coverage begins.
Stage III This will be the “grand opening,” designed to draw the entire community into engagement with the co-ops’s efforts. In this stage the website will present an enterprise reporting project at several stages [for details see Kickoff Reporting Project, below], with promotion opportunities at every stage. The project will give the community a way to take part and otherwise experience the collaborative nature of Banyan-model journalism — and it will yield a major piece of journalism of significance to the community. As a promotion device, this project is designed to offer repeated occasions to fuel viral spread of engagement with the co-op. The co-op board and other committed members will kick this off by urging their constituencies to engage with the project; at the same time, people who offered their names in Stage II will be asked to urge their friends to join the fun. As the list of names builds, the co-op leaders will set up and promote in-person events that will deepen engagement and yield still more names and prospective members. When the reporting project is published, a vivid link in the presentation will urge readers to click to join forces with others in the software’s digital public square space to use its digital tools to organize for constructive community change on the issue the project addresses — and to invite others to join in. The presentation will also make a formal ask for memberships.
Stage IV It’s roll-out time: The co-op staff will begin work, and day-to-day community news coverage will begin. A fresh enterprise reporting project will be set in motion and the digital forum for it will be introduced added to the digital public square — reinforcing a fundamental aspect of how the new co-op will be a community-strengthening cooperative institution. In addition to inviting readers into conversations about crowdsourced features, the editors will propose questions of community interest every week and invite people to click into the digital forum and work for constructive change. These additions will open new doors for continually attracting still more community members to engage with the site — and to become co-op members. Stage IV will continue to build site engagement and membership numbers, generating revenue enough not just to sustain but to thrive.
Kickoff Reporting Project
Stage I—Use the new co-op’s home page to welcome people and invite them to nominate ideas for reporting projects that could make the biggest constructive change in their city, focusing on what’s needed rather than on malfeasance. The deadline for ideas would be three weeks from the day the site goes live, after energetic promotion and viral spread yields enough ideas to offer a serious choice.
Stage II—Replace the initial story with one that presents the top ideas that community members have suggested and ask readers to cast a vote for the one they think would do the most good — and to ask their friends to do the same. This will be an occasion for another round of promotion from co-op board members and other advocates, plus emails to addresses captured in Stage I. The promotions will urge people to come to the site, read the ideas, and vote for their favorite.
Stage III—Replace the Stage II story with one that announces the community’s reporting project choice and urges community members to send in any information, photos, video, etc., that would help the reporting effort; this would be the occasion for still another round of promotion, announcing the winning idea and urging all in the community to submit info. The main story would explain that all the ideas will prove of great value to the way the new co-op reports about the community in the future; it will also include a link to click through to a page showing the votes cast for each idea.
As soon as the winning idea is announced, the reporter will go to work on the story. The project will include frequent crowdsourcing requests and reports to readers on progress.
Stage IV: The reporter’s finished article is published, with an invitation for readers to click into a digital forum whose goal is to get readers learning from and working with one another while organizing to bring about the constructive change in whatever area the project explored. This will be occasion for still another round of promotion — and a direct request for memberships and for crowdfunding donations to support further major reporting projects like this one, which will be a recurring aspect of Banyan-affiliated news co-ops. Further, the site will promote an off-line facilitated meetup for people interested in trying to bring about constructive change in the area the reporting explored.
Related Membership Marketing Tools
- A prominent box on every page whose aim is to seduce readers to click through to a landing page that tells about the co-op and its benefits, asks people what they think their community needs and how the news co-op could help, and asks them to sign up as co-op members. One approach would be a dynamic display that rotates provocative questions about the nature of the new co-op and invites people to click to get the answer.
- Viral tools that readers can use to invite other people to the co-op’s site.