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.”