Frequently Asked Questions
What is Haverhill Matters?
A new news organization that’s committed to Haverhill’s vitality and devoted to bringing its people the reliable news and information we need to make our best life and citizenship decisions. It will present a full and timely news report to read on the Web, free of charge to all – and, distinctively, it will also invite people to 1) help the editors in ways that strengthen news coverage and 2) use easy website tools to find other readers who share interest in an issue and work together for constructive community change.
Is it locally owned?
Yes, and that won’t change. Haverhill Matters is a cooperative that will be owned by hundreds of local people who care enough about our community to pay annual co-op membership fees to ensure the robust news coverage that’s crucial to civic health. These members will own the source of our community news the way depositors own credit unions or shoppers own food co-ops. It will be governed on a one-member/one-vote basis, with the members electing the board that hires the executive director and editor.
Why is this needed?
Haverhill was once blessed with robust news coverage, but over the last 15 years the Internet has seized the lion’s share of the advertising dollars that once made newspapers prosper. This has meant significant cuts in staff and thus in news coverage. Haverhill Matters aims to bring much us more comprehensive, timely and responsive coverage.
What will Haverhill Matters look like?
It will be published on the Web in pages that look a lot like the ones you see in this preliminary website, employing proven and easy-to-use approaches to online news presentation. Most content will be text, augmented by still photos, video and audio.
How can we be confident this will work? It’s a new idea, isn’t it?
As long as our community wants robust news coverage, Haverhill Matters should thrive. Co-ops have long proven themselves in business sectors from agriculture to electric utilities to banking to childcare; there are reader-owned co-op newspapers in Europe, Canada and Mexico. Further, Haverhill Matters has important support from the Banyan Project, which developed the business model it has adopted; from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, which has arranged pro bono legal support, and from the National Cooperative Business Association, a major trade association in Washington.
If other news sources are drying up, why won’t Haverhill Matters dry up too?
Because of its co-op business model. As newspapers have faded, Web-based community news efforts have sprung up in hundreds of communities from coast to coast – but only a small fraction have proven self-sustaining. That’s because they, like newspapers, tend to rely almost entirely on advertising revenue. The Haverhill co-op is designed to thrive in the digital future, relying not only on advertising revenue but also a hardy stream of modest annual membership fees. These streams together should ensure business health.
News, Features and Editorials
When you say “comprehensive news coverage,” what’s included?
The core will be day-to-day news of Haverhill institutions and happenings ranging from City Council meetings to school sports to business to police news, plus features that capture our community’s experiences and celebrate the lives of its people. Major reporting projects will dig deep into community issues. And Haverhill Matters will take care to report not only about our city’s needs and challenges but also about what’s working. The editor will routinely ask members for ideas, and will encourage their input. The tone of the stories will range from deeply serious to lighthearted and witty.
Who will write the news and opinion stories?
Haverhill Matters’s full-time editor will cover the City Council and write some other major news stories, but will spend most of her or his time directing the work of part-time reporters, interns from Northern Essex Community College, some high school students, and community correspondents. The co-op’s executive director, whose responsibility will be to oversee advertising and other business matters while engaging the community on many levels, will write a weekly column and be responsible for opinion and editorials.
Who is going to check the quality and accuracy of the news and how?
Haverhill Matters’s promise to the community is that readers will experience its journalism as relevant to their lives, respectful of them as people, and worth of their trust. The editor’s top responsibility is to make sure that everything published upholds this promise. Further, every story will ask readers to let the editor know if there’s something wrong in it – and to offer new information that will make future coverage better. Ensuring accuracy will be not only a professional imperative but also a community effort.
What precautions will prevent advertisers from influencing the news coverage?
Haverhill Matters will welcome local sponsorships and advertising but refuse ads from exploitative and untrustworthy businesses. Its advertising policy includes asking readers to alert the general manager to ads from businesses that have caused them problems; the general manager will determine whether to accept future ads from these businesses. Haverhill Matters can take this bold position because the co-op owners will be people devoted to our community, not distant corporations devoted to maximizing profits.
Does Haverhill Matters have a political agenda?
Haverhill Matters is committed to building co-op membership from all neighborhoods and all political perspectives. This will ensure that the editor will be accountable to a large number of widely distributed member/owners with a variety of views, obligating her or him to present the news in ways that take many perspectives into account.
When will comprehensive news coverage begin?
As soon as the Haverhill Members co-op has signed up enough members – sometime this year. If you’re interested in learning more about membership, click here.
Is there an editorial viewpoint and if so who determines it?
Haverhill Matters’s editorial policy is to be devoted to local civic health and economic vitality but not to any political party. Its general manager will supervise Haverhill Matters’s editor and, like the publisher of a newspaper, will make final decisions on positions editorials take. Co-op members will routinely be surveyed about their thoughts on issues, and responses will help shape the general manager’s and editor’s thinking.
Can I read the news if I am not a member?
Yes. Reading is open to all at no charge.
Will there be a printed newspaper?
Not at the outset. But many people have expressed interest; once Haverhill Matters has solidified its Web operation, perhaps adding a print publication should be tried.
About the Co-op and Membership
What’s a co-operative? And isn’t a news co-op unusual?
A cooperative is a business owned by members and governed on a one-member/one-vote basis. Co-ops are a growing slice of the U.S. economy and the most trustworthy of business forms: The goal is not investor gain but rather quality, low-cost service that meets their members’ needs. Member/owners and the people being served are one in the same, so there’s no potential for conflict of interest. Once launched, co-ops tend to be quite stable. Haverhill Matters is unusual as a groundbreaking community news co-op; reader-owned co-op newspapers have long published in Europe and Mexico.
If the website is free for all to read, why would people pay to be co-op members?
Members receive many benefits not available to readers:
- A rare opportunity to own a chunk, albeit small, of a vital community institution.
- A voice and sense of belonging, in that only members can post comments, offer feedback to the editor, and use online tools in the Haverhill Matters website to work with others through to advance an issue that matters to them, thus making a community contribution.
- A sense of control, in that each member gets a vote in electing the co-op’s board, which hires its general manager and editor.
- A share of the co-op’s year-end surplus, if any. Payments are expected to be modest; in some years there will be none. Service, not profit, is the main goal.
- Discounts from trustworthy and cooperating businesses.
Who can be members?
People who live in Haverhill and adjacent communities, or who work in Haverhill. Membership is limited to ensure that Haverhill Matters is a community institution, but members will be sought from all neighborhoods and political perspectives, rich and poor. The goal is to serve the broad public of the entire community.
How much do memberships cost?
An annual individual membership will be $36 – this works out to about a dime a day – and a family membership will be $60. Before news coverage begins, only founding memberships will be offered, at $250 for the first year; these memberships will provide startup capital, a common approach when new food co-ops form. Pledges are welcome now; no money will be accepted till there’s a critical mass of members.
Will there be different membership categories for people and for businesses?
Business and institutional memberships are under consideration. Business members would pay an annual fee for Haverhill Matters business directory listing and a discount on other advertising. Nonprofit community institutions that serve the public would pay an annual fee for space they can use in pursuit of their mission. If you are a business owner, or work for a community institution, please send an email with your thoughts.
Who determines the annual membership contributions?
The co-op board, which is elected by the members.
How can I become a member, or offer my help?
Click here for a Web form where you can pledge to be a member, volunteer to help, or leave your email address to receive updates.
Where does the money come from to run Haverhill Matters?
From local annual membership fees, payments for sponsorships and advertising, grants, and crowdfunding for special reporting projects.
If I become a member will my information be sold to other companies?
Under no circumstances. As a member-owned community institution, Haverhill Matters will not exploit its members or anyone else who reads the website.
You say Haverhill Matters invites reader collaboration. How does this work?
The more readers engage with the editors the better Haverhill Matters will be. So every story page will ask for several kinds of reader feedback: Did the story advance your understanding of the issue it covers? Is something incorrect? Can you offer knowledge that can help shape a follow-up story? Might you have relevant photos or documents? An idea for a related story? Also, the editors will post a fresh Community Question every week and, from time to time, survey the membership in search of new story ideas.
What do I do if I want to contribute still photos, audio, video or writing, such as news articles, commentaries or letters to the editor?
Every page on the Haverhill Matters website will offer easy directions for submissions of all kinds. Except for letters to the editor, you must be a member to contribute. .) Click here for a Web form where you can pledge to be a member, volunteer to help, or leave your email address to receive updates.
Are submissions subject to review or editing?
Yes. Nothing will be published unless the editor sees it as meeting the Haverhill Matters promise: that Haverhill readers will experience it as relevant, respectful and trustworthy.
What about comments?
Members’ comments are encouraged but instead of being appended to individual news stories they’ll go into a special forum page for whatever topic the story in question addresses. This way they’ll become part of a continuing conversation that can lead to constructive community change. [See below.]
Tools for Constructive Community Change
You say Haverhill Matters is devoted to community vitality and offers digital tools to help people work together for constructive change. How does this work?
Haverhill Matters understands journalism not as an end in itself but as nourishment for civic engagement. And it has designed special tools to make it easy for people to respond to stories the moment they’ve read them. The site will offer Sharing Forums for each topic in the news where people can 1) find out what others think; 2) find links to relevant Haverhill Matters stories and to other background; 3) post comments not only in response to stories but also to other commenters, and 4) organize in pursuit of constructive change.
That sounds like a hodgepodge. Is there a way to sort all these comments out?
Haverhill Matters will use a distinctive forum display system that brings the most pertinent comments to the top. Comments will be rated based on how recently they were posted, the number of responses they attract, and posters’ reputations (based on how often people posts, how often others respond to their posts, and other factors). The forum display will display a preset number of comments and allow the user to click to see more. And each forum will have a volunteer curator, who will be selected by the editor.
What if a group of readers develops an idea and want to try to make it happen?
The digital tools that animate Sharing Forums are designed to help readers move along a continuum from sharing, to engagement, to collaboration, to organizing, to action. The first action step will an in-person meet-up; the curator and perhaps the editor will attend.
How do you prevent toxic comments from souring the civic effort?
Only co-op members may comment and they will be required to sign their real names and pledge to uphold a set of standards whose aim is keeping things constructive. Every story page will ask readers to flag comments they think offend the standards; the editors will assess flagged comments and communicate with members whose posts cross the line.