What is news? The Banyan Project, which I lead and which is pioneering a new model for community journalism on the Web, defines it as the reliable information people need to make their best life and citizenship decisions. A steady diet of crime stories, no matter how well executed, has no chance of fulfilling the deep needs of people, civic health and democracy. And, thanks to the gusher of deceptive information that defaces our culture, there’s never been a greater need for for reliable news and service features than now.
Community news must include what’s going wrong, so civic energy can respond and fix it. But community news must also include what’s working, so civic energy can respond and do more of it. Either response is a citizenship decision. And if you want to make your best citizenship decisions, you need a wide range of information. If you don’t know what’s working, you can’t respond by helping to do more.
The foundation of the Banyan Project’s business model for community journalism is cooperative ownership — Banyan-model sites will be owned by a large number of readers, the way shoppers own food co-ops and depositors own credit unions. There will be constant feedback from the readers — who are the owners, remember — about what their information needs are. There’ll be no need for someone to happen into their community to conduct focus groups. The editors will simply have to pay attention to the readers’ needs or lose their jobs to someone who will.
Here’s congratulating Bob Trapp for keeping a vital newspaper going in this challenging time. And here’s hoping that he and his staff can heed the community’s call for The Sun to respond to people’s need for reliable information so they can make their best life and citizenship decisions.