Master Metaphors

The Banyan Project is organized around three master metaphors: the banyan tree, call-and-response music, and community organizing. Each offers insight into the Project.

Banyan Tree

A banyan is a fig tree (Ficus benghalensis) whose branches produce slender vines that gravity pulls downwards. If they reach the ground in a fertile place, they take root and thicken into subsidiary trunks that hold up the horizontal branches and allow them to spread for great distances. A single banyan can thus grow to cover more than an acre. Here’s a photo of one that covers a city block in Maui, Hawaii. The banyan tree is the central metaphor for this project.

In the biological banyan, the main trunk is the progenitor of all the tree’s branches, which spread and spread as the tree matures, and of the supporting subsidiary trunks that establish themselves locally across a broad territory. This happens in accord with banyan tree DNA.

In the metaphorical banyan, the main trunk — the Banyan Project — will provide the DNA that defines the standards for all the tree’s widely distributed community news co-ops, the subsidiary trunks that support the Banyan canopy. As with the biological banyan, the news Banyan will achieve this without tightly controlling the direction of growth; growth will happen opportunistically, where fertile soil is welcoming to new journalism efforts. Thus the Banyan Project’s character is also akin to that of the World Wide Web, with its main trunk taking a role akin to that of the World Wide Web Consortium, ensuring the integrity of journalistic and software standards shared by the subsidiary trunks.

Trust growing out of integrity is what fertilizes this organism’s growth. Banyan’s model is based on consumer cooperative ownership because co-ops are the most trustworthy form of business enterprise: News co-ops will develop from readers who become co-op members, so there can be no structural conflict between the interests of a news co-op’s managers and the interests of the readers the co-op serves. The entire structure of the model must be grounded in integrity, and every decision that’s made must be examined for its impact on Banyan’s trustworthiness.

The banyan metaphor offers some nice overtones to associate with the journalism of integrity: 1) it was under a banyan tree that the Buddha was said to be sitting when he achieved enlightenment; 2) in India banyan trees are a symbol of permanence; 3) the word banyan comes from Sanskrit meaning trader, because traders found banyan trees a good place to spread their wares.

Call and Response

Call and response is a standard practice in many folk music traditions, most familiarly the blues.

As a metaphor for the Banyan Project, the call is the news and feature report produced by independent community news co-ops seeded and supported by Banyan.

The response comes when the reader/users engage with the journalism in the digital public square provided by the Banyan publishing platform; responses can range from a shrug, to clicking approval of the story, to commenting, to joining an digital forum on the topic the story advances, to starting such a group if none for the topic exists, to emailing suggestions to the editors, to offering further suggestions for future stories on the same issue, to volunteering photos or video or reporting, to submitting an article for publication.

The readers’ responses provide nourishment for the next day’s call. The call and response metaphor is at the heart of Banyan’s professionally led collaborative journalism.

Community Organizing

Community organizers bring people together to exert their combined power to make change that benefits their community. Banyan’s aim is not only to foster and support reliable community journalism but also to provide readers with tools that help them use the power of networking to strengthen democracy both in their municipalities and in communities of interest they form around issues.

Social theorists and observers of America’s culture dating back to de Tocqueville have marveled at how we form voluntary associations and have seen these associations—from civic and fraternal organizations to co-ops and mutual insurance companies and on and on—as the seedbed and lifeblood of democracy. Banyan will be a seedbed for such voluntary associations. It will engage the hands as well as the mind in democracy.

 

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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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