What happens when the institutions we depend on – the ones supposedly “too big to fail” – begin to fail us? The unsustainable drive toward ever greater profits has undermined our society’s’ core institutions: health care, banks and now, journalism.
In response to this string of failures, it is no surprise to see small groups of people coming together locally to find ways of obtaining the information, health care and financial assistance they need in their communities.
One of these responses has been the formation of co-ops, or local cooperatives. Local cooperative banks and health care co-ops are now being held up as important social and economic models.
Last week, a new journalism co-op was announced: the Chicago News Cooperative, which already has partnerships lined up with the New York Times and the local public television station. The Chicago News Cooperative is the brainchild of James O’Shea, former editor of the Chicago Tribute and Los Angeles Times, who was forced from his post at the Times after he refused to cut newsroom staff.
O’Shea was driven to start CNC because major media companies have been disinvesting in quality journalism. “This is something all papers are struggling with in their cutting back,” O’Shea said on a Chicago Tribune blog.
“My view has always been that what matters is public service journalism. So I started thinking about how there are holes being created simply by people not having as many resources as they used to.”
Public service is at the heart of the co-op model. As we wrote in our report, Saving The News: Toward a National Journalism Strategy:
Longstanding models for cooperatively owned businesses include credit unions and farm distribution and processing co-ops. However, the popularity of newer models like grocery store co-ops has introduced the idea of cooperative ownership to a broader population. Co-ops are democratically controlled by their member/owners, and surplus revenues are returned to those members. Like the L3C model discussed above, the co-op structure shifts the mission of the organization away from profit-making toward providing quality goods or services to its members. Four out of 10 Americans are already members of co-ops.
As applied to the news, this alternative ownership structure can liberate news production from the predatory commercial pressures that have contributed to journalism’s current predicament.
Interestingly, when we released our report back in May, we predicted that the cooperative model would be a great fit with the emerging idea of Low Profit Limited Liability Corporations (L3Cs). “Combined with a low-profit or nonprofit status,” we wrote, “these alternatives to absentee commercial ownership may offer a way to provide quality journalism to diverse local communities.”
As it turns out, this is exactly what CNC has in mind. Just this year, Illinois passed a law allowing for the creation of L3Cs. If it succeeds, CNC could become the nation’s first L3C focused on journalism.
To read more about cooperatives or the L3C model, visit our “New Models” pages at SaveTheNews.org.