News Co ops

Convened by Tom Stites, Founder and President of the Banyan Project

Participants:
Russ Baker, Founder/Editor, WhoWhatWhy.org
Sarah van Gelder, Yes! Magazine
Jennifer Lehman, writer/future student
Sarah Van Gelder, Executive Editor of Yes! magazine
Rob Williams, Publisher/Editor, Vermont Commons
Josh Wolf, Freelance journalist
Mary Treacy, ex-librarian, former director, Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, Minneapolis.

News Co-ops

Tom Stites’ Banyan Project is building a prototype for a collection of news co-ops brought together by value principles and open-source editing software currently being designed. The group exchanged ideas, offered suggestions, questions and what ifs on the topic of news co-ops.

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Banyan Project model (banyanproject.coop):

-News co-ops are like food co-ops and credit unions in that they are local

-All co-ops start small. REI became huge, lost their model and joined the traditional marketplace.

-Banyan Project (building a network of co-ops) is based on the idea that if journalism is relevant to lives, respectful and valuable, readers/engagement will come.
-News co-op structure will illicit volunteer cooperation
-News co-ops are beyond a business model…a model that insists on a different kind of journalism that is from the people up vs. top down.
-Co-ops are most trustworthy form of business b/c of built-in accountability
-Community is at the center, editor is a group hire accountable to board/readers
-Editor one level removed from community editorial decisions, not a content free for all
-Least central control is best, each co-op is idiosyncratic, based on individual community
-Co-ops need central group with good listening skills, leadership skills and a checked ego.

Building Online Community:

-Online comments are not community and aren’t really engagement
people need to be able to find each other, more possible with co-op model
-No anonymity
-Group moderation, flagging system
-Comments move into conversation space (searchable threaded archive) rather than just day of story
-Hybrid online and face-to-face
-Question of the week, engagement

Questions/Concerns/What ifs:

Least central control is best to allow communities to fit their needs, but what level of control is required from the central organization? Need to find balance.
– Banyan hopes to maintain balance through their unique software made available for free to partner co-ops
-Software (still being created) includes some editorial barriers/tips
-(ex:) pop-ups reminding team “does what you’ve written match the value proposition?” or reminders to check spelling of names

Dealing with the stray groups (groups acting outside of Banyan’s values)
-TED has come out against specific TED talks that aren’t with their values (such as ESP presenters they feared would alienate hard-science speakers)
-Are very strong principles needed? People/co-ops will need to buy into ideals in the beginning and then discuss/determine if there is too much straying
-Banyan project model writes into agreement that co-op can be cut

Some co-ops may never survive because the culture is never set or is not sustainable.
-How to set co-op culture from the beginning?

Possibilities/Ideas/Other Comments:

Member levels: reader member, institutional member, producer member.

Worker owned co-op?
This biz model is growing, Stites says, but news co-ops need to be community based, not worker based.

What is the flexibility for each co-op?
“Banyan software will be the hymnal, but you don’t have to sing all the hymns” – Stites
Someone from group: “Software cannot drive what you are doing”

Co-op Alignment Idea
-VISA model
-basic principles agreed to then you can call yourself Visa (or part of the Banyan Project), principles reviewed over time

Co-op Internal Structure Example
-One excellent editor who knows journalism
-One excellent manager — needs to have significant community organization skills (or consider a third position for community organization/outreach)

Working Films model (www.workingfilms.org)
-Purpose is to create social change with movies
-Org. works with filmmakers, identify market, stakeholders, constituents who then become editorial board/members
-Board/members have place to go/something to do, involvement, content ideas

“Journalism should trump ideology.” –willingness to be surprised, to change mind

Journalists and Journalism
-“The word journalism has lost fixed meaning.” – Stites
-Banyan’s definition: reliable information people need make their best life/citizenry decisions
from the group: “Doesn’t this lead to a need/desire for professional, excellent journalists?”
-Not everyone can be a journalist — but everyone can be trained

Books to Read (recommended by Stites):

“Penguin and the Leviathan” by
Penguin is Linux and Leviathan is Hobbs
-shows depth of human collaborative urge
-web takes tension out of volunteer cooperation
-collaboration urge turned off with money

“Future Perfect” by Steven Johnson
-puts ideas found in “Penguin and Leviathan” into a political framework