Tom Stites Discusses the Banyan Project

The IVP-Blueprint Conference hasn’t officially begun, but those of us who were here got to hear Tom Stites talk about his Banyan Project at RJI’s weekly Lunch Storm meeting. As with all the conference events I’ll be covering for this blog, what follows is by no means an exhaustive summary—just some highlights.
—Emily Sussman

Stites described the Banyan Project as an entirely “new model” for online journalism, rather than a minor adjustment. The aim is to build a media outlet with no structural conflicts of interest, i.e., one that is not dependent solely on advertising for revenue, but instead functions as a “co-op” and is owned by its readers by way of a small monthly user fee.
The “theoretical framework” of Banyan is the “integrity economy” in which the reader owns the content and thus has a hand in determining what that content is. In other words, according to Stites, Banyan sites would present journalism that “rises up from its readers” (service journalism, for example), as opposed to being targeted at a specific (demographically desirable) audience. Most newspapers, Stites pointed out, are edited for the top two quintiles of the socioeconomic strata—leaving at least 57 million Americans without media content that has significant “relevance” to their lives. “If you offer a site with information that matters to people, they will come,” Stites said.
Audience questions and comments for Stites mainly revolved around how technology could accommodate and enrich a Banyan-like media outlet. How could audience participation be encouraged and coaxed into a productive conversation rather than contributing to polarization? What’s the skill set required to be a meaningful reader-participant? How could stories be presented in an atomic (as opposed to pre-packaged) format? How could integrity be preserved throughout the site? How could news stories and statements of fact be tagged in such a way that facilitates sharing and searching on the web?

Resources mentioned:
Ellen Hume’s “Tabloids, Talk Radio and the Future of News”
Newstrust.net

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