Veteran journalist Tom Stites writes on the Nieman Blog that new digital media might be overlooking a venerable method of sustaining themselves -- the cooperative.
The cooperative is defined as a business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit. Today we might call it crowd-funding.
When the market fails
Stites says that people form cooperatives when the normal for-profit market forces fail to supply a service or product that their community needs.
There are many examples of user-owned news cooperatives in other countries but none in the U.S.
Stites is trying to launch one here.
Stites reviews recent studies of attempts to establish sustainable business models and concludes that many of the media currently held up as models depend too much on foundation support, which rarely is maintained over the long haul. In addition many of these operations depend on volunteer work, and volunteers burn out. There is thus an urgency to find a new model.
A hybrid model for local news
What is appealing about the cooperative model is that there are many news organizations already functioning. They can be replicated. They mix characteristics of for-profit and non-profit businesses and they can be tailored to the needs of the local community.
More than any other type of news, local community coverage has suffered in the recent downturn of the news industry. The co-op might help give it life again.
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