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