Haverhill Matters has adopted a cooperative business model for community-scale Web journalism that holds out great promise – both for our community and for the news co-op’s members.
What’s magic about cooperatives is that for a long list of industries they offer stable business models that work in economic settings too arid to support robust for-profit models. After years of plummeting newspaper advertising revenue that’s led to drastic cutbacks in original reporting from coast to coast, Haverhill is now experiencing aridity in the reliable journalism the city and its people need.
For our community, Haverhill Matters’s co-op model promises a stable, robust source of the news and information that can thrive in the digital future – and that our city needs for its civic health.
As for our community’s people, co-op membership offers an array of benefits that surpass those offered by public radio and television:
- 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 civic engagement 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.
Haverhill Matters is committed to bringing together hundreds of member/owners from all neighborhoods and all political persuasions, rich, middle-class and poor. The goal is to serve the broad public of the entire community, and the entire enterprise rests on the Haverhill Matters Promise: that people in the community will experience its journalism as relevant to the lives, respectful of them as people, and worthy of their trust.
Individual memberships are $36 a year – about a dime a day – and family memberships are $60. To insure that Haverhill Matters is a true community institution, membership is limited to people who live in Haverhill or a community that adjoins it, or who work in Haverhill itself.
The co-op model also offers business advantages to Haverhill Matters. Newspapers and most Web journalism efforts have but one strong revenue stream, advertising. Haverhill Matters will have two: advertising plus a strong flow of annual membership fees from co-op members. Together, these will provide enough money to pay the staff as well as part-time and freelance contributors.
While a community co-op Web news effort is a novel undertaking, co-op journalism is nothing new: reader-owned co-op newspapers have long been published in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Mexico.
Co-ops are neither investor-owned nor nonprofit organizations. They take myriad forms and make up a growing segment of the economy – $3 trillion in assets, $500 billion in revenue, and $25 billion in wages. The most numerous co-ops in the United States are the nearly 8,200 credit unions, each owned by its depositors.
Co-ops are democratic, governed on the principle of one member, one vote. The Frequently Asked Questions offer more details on membership; 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.