Write Stuff – The Banyan Project

We’ve all heard about the decline of print media, but how does that affect the news you get online? Fewer journalists, less time to get the story right, and the pressure to give it all away for free mean a real threat to reliable, independent news coverage. Enter the Banyan Project, a news co-op that brings together the best of trained journalism and citizen reporting.

Tom Stites, the project’s founder, sums up the problem well in a short video on the site: ?It’s not just newspapers that are declining. It’s the news That’s in decline. There are lots of ways to deliver news, but you can’t deliver it if it hasn’t been reported. This is a threat to democracy.?

Sure, we might be drowning in celebrity ?news? and recycled press releases that often substitute for fact-checked articles, but real investigative journalism is getting harder to provide. Professional, trained writers and editors can’t exist for free, no matter how much we prefer endless freebies over a newspaper paywall. Citizen journalism is fine to a point, but digging deep to uncover a complex story takes specific skills that an untrained journalist rarely has.

The Banyan Project aims to confront this growing ?news desert? through a model That’s worked in everything from banking to farming: the co-op. And It’s already been proven to work in the newspaper business, with successful read-owned papers in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Mexico.

To build the US news co-op, Stites put together a team that includes senior journalists, academics, financial strategists, and web developers. Their first news site will launch later in 2013, at Haverhill.Matters.coop (the URL currently points to the Banyan Project’s homepage).

The project’s journalistic integrity will rely in large part on the editors, who will manage submissions and final content, and the professional freelance writers that contribute stories. And unlike with some other popular media sites, those editors and writers will be paid. The project’s funding model has four revenue streams: annual membership fees, advertising, crowdsourcing, and grants. According to the project’s site, basic membership fees are $36.

Both citizen journalists and readers can contribute as well, and the project’s software allows for plenty of feedback from readers.

What will readers get from their local Banyan Project? Hopefully, a refreshing change from the partisan bombast that passes for news on many major sites?as well as the dubious news ?facts? that float around cyberspace. In contrast, the Banyan Project plans to focus on local news; articles on life issues, such as jobs and finances, that will ?help less-than-affluent people deal with? those issues; and a resource bank of links to local resources.

Can the US version match the success of other reader-owned media outlets? Only time will tell, but if we’re interested in a reputable and (relatively) impartial press, let’s hope this banyan tree grows.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).

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