Renaissance Journalism supports study of media co-op to assist community news outlets

Renaissance Journalism has awarded a $10,000 grant for a study to determine whether the formation of a business cooperative can help some Bay Area news outlets succeed in today’s fierce media marketplace.

If the findings are positive, the study could lead to the creation of the Northern California Media Cooperative, a shared-services cooperative organization that would support member news organizations.

“The purpose of the co-op is to provide members with the volume and scale to cut costs and reduce risk, and the economic stability to support testing and implementing new revenue streams,” said journalist Josh Wilson, who has been championing the idea with media consultant Jo Ellen Green Kaiser and other media leaders. “NorCal Media is a unique effort in the news world, and distinct from the worker or member co-op model, because it is focusing on sustainability across groups of regional newsrooms.”

A diverse range of community news organizations, including commercial and nonprofit, have signaled interest, including the Westside Observer, Castro Courier, The Potrero View, San Francisco Bay View, Mission Local, The Mendocino Voice, San Francisco Public Press, Bay Area Reporter and El Tecolote. San Francisco City College’s Department of Journalism, Stakeholder Media, Watershed Media Project and the U.S. Federation of Worker Co-ops have also been involved in the discussions.

Under the co-op model, the participating news outlets would pay a membership fee and have voting rights to steer the co-op’s operations. The co-op would offer revenue-producing products and services to the members or to other businesses and customers.

To be viable and to attract members, the co-op must show that it can make a profit. Renaissance Journalism’s grant will go towards a business plan to be developed by Kaiser, the former executive director of The Media Consortium. Hypothetically, for example, could the co-op create a shared digital technology platform that the member news outlets use, or develop a sideline business, such as printing brochures for government agencies? The business plan also must evaluate the type of member organizations that will make the co-op most likely to succeed, how much they should pay for membership, and what it will take to get off the ground.

Until the co-op officially is created, Accíon Latina, the nonprofit publisher of El Tecolote in the Mission District, has agreed to administer the grant for the study.

With Facebook, Google and other digital giants gobbling up the advertising market, community-based news outlets are particularly vulnerable and need to find new ways to generate revenues and cut costs.

“The media co-op is a bold idea,” said Jon Funabiki, executive director of Renaissance Journalism. “We hope the business plan will help the news organizations make an informed decision about whether it’s a go.”