Sources of Income

 

An important source of revenue for  community news co-ops will be a continuing stream of members’ annual membership payments. Co-ops offer their members greater value than public broadcasting stations and other community Web journalism efforts — to make the distinction, we refer to co-op memberships as “deep memberships.”

Web-based news co-ops are just emerging in the Unites States but reader-owned cooperatives have long published newspapers in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Mexico, and there are listener-owned co-op radio stations in Canada.

Co-ops can also rely on advertising revenue, engage in crowdfunding and seek foundation grants. As the co-ops mature some should be able to draw from ancillary sales.

What sets the news co-op revenue model apart from that of all other Web journalism efforts is what it monetizes:  Legacy models monetize 1) readers’ attention and sell it to advertisers and 2) the news and sell it to readers as subscriptions.  The co-ops’ news will be delivered free to all. It will serve as a magnet to readers, and readers who place enough value on the co-op’s civic contribution and other benefits can then be enrolled as paying co-op members.  Most fundamentally, what Banyan-model news co-ops monetize is a sense of civic possibility.

Memberships—The co-op model rests on the premise that a significant fraction of co-ops’ readers will become members. Basic memberships fees are envisioned at $60 a year, which works out to only $5 a month. Other membership levels could range upward to $500 a year; budget memberships will be available for $36, and the poor may receive no-cost scholarships. Unlike public broadcasting memberships and membership in some non-cooperative news efforts, the Banyan model offers members a small piece of equity and a vote in choosing trustees, a bigger voice in issue forums, and much more.  To make the distinction, we call what Banyan offers “deep memberships.” 

Advertising—This too should be a significant stream. Because news co-ops will be community institutions, advertising will be limited to local businesses. One important form of advertising would be sponsorships by the community’s major businesses and institutions. In addition, Banyan-model co-ops will offer a special category of co-op membership for businesses that would gain them a directory listing, an advertising discount and other benefits.

Crowdfunding—The idea of getting readers to chip in together to fund a particular reporting project has proven crucial to journalism projects in many communities from coast to coast that use web crowdfunding platforms.

Grants—Some co-ops will seek grants from local funders for special projects.

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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.

Read more about Banyan Project.

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