ONA Weekly #351: The Digital News Co-op Is Here

By on March 17, 2021

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The digital news co-op is here

As publications struggle to find stable sources of funding, a new business strategy has emerged: the digital news co-op. One high-profile example dates from last year, when onetime staffers of sports website Deadspin launched Defector Media, a co-op owned by its writers and editors instead of outside investors. 

Now, the digital co-op model is expanding into local news. Ohio’s The Devil Strip is the first cooperatively owned local news site, writes Tom Stites for Nonprofit Quarterly, and publications from California to Maine are considering this option as well. Unlike Defector, these co-ops are owned not by its writers and editors, but by its audience. Instead of traditional subscriptions, The Devil Strip offers memberships that include a vote in how the publication is run. These memberships would sustain the reporting, which is then offered for free as a public service. Members receive special access and the local community now has a digital town square. 

That’s not to say there aren’t serious challenges to implementing this model. As Stites notes, successful co-ops require a lot of organization and finding managers with co-op experience can be tricky. Plus, digital news co-ops may require more complex digital platforms that offer special membership-tracking features. Still, he writes, “For democracy, there is huge potential for gain if the news co-op model proves sustainable in places for-profit and nonprofit models have not taken root.”

The cost of being Black in the newsroom

“If one of our foundational, fundamental values is that we tell the truth,” says CBS News correspondent Wesley Lowery, “then no one should ever get in trouble for telling the truth.” Lowery joined Maynard Institute co-executive director Martin G. Reynolds last week for the latest episode of Belonging in the News, part of Vision25’s movement to build racial equity in journalism. 

Lowery spoke candidly about the process of pitching the Fatal Force Project—a database of police shootings that eventually won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting—to editors at the Washington Post. At the time, there was skepticism from high-ups that reader interest in the topic of race and police brutality would last. “Most major projects that relate to race have to be signed off on by dozens of white people,” Lowery said. “There’s a level of self-censorship that happens when I have to get this pitch through this person and then this person. I’m catering to them before I even do it. You’re compromising before you’re even at the table, often, and there’s a form of self-censorship there that changes the output.” 

Journalists of color experience an internal tug-of-war in the newsroom: “You’re picking your battles, you’re learning how to operate within the system so that you can manipulate the system to give you what you want.” The reality, Lowery believes, is that all news organizations are constantly grappling between the difference in their values (speaking truth to power) and their interests (keeping subscribers).

Dig Deeper: The full recording is available for those who register for the event.

  • Featured expert: Wesley Lowery
  • One takeaway: Lowery says newsroom leaders should articulate their values clearly so that these values can be reflected in policies both internally and publicly. 


Stat of the week

22 percentWomen make up 22% of top editors at 240 global publications, according to a Reuters News Institute report. The report finds that there is a positive correlation between the number of women in the organization and the number of women at the top. However, in most markets there are more female journalists than female newsroom leaders—which highlights the importance of leadership programs like our Women’s Leadership Accelerator. (ICYMI: We announced the 2021 cohort last week.)



Important dates

Note: All ONA events are currently happening online, and open to all regardless of where you’re located.


Career opportunities

ONA’s Career Center is an excellent resource for jobs, fellowships and internships in digital journalism. Recent postings include:



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