Tom Stites

Founder and President, The Banyan Project

Tom Stites is Founder and President of The Banyan Project, whose mission is “to help seed independent news co-ops in underserved communities.” Stites has been a ranking editor at The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Kansas City Times, and was Editor and Publisher of UU World, the Unitarian Universalist magazine.


It has a bunch of ways that it diverges from the other approaches to online news. Most distinctive is that its ownership model is the same as a food co-op or a credit union or something. It’s called consumer cooperative ownership, meaning that it’s owned by the end users, in this case a whole bunch of readers would own their local source of news the way that depositors own credit unions. And it becomes a widely distributed ownership of the news organization that is literally grassroots ownership.

It has several advantages and some disadvantages. This is not a silver bullet. The advantages are that co-ops of all kinds, once established, rarely fail. They’re really, really robust and that’s because to get them to launch you’ve got to sign up a whole bunch of people as members before it exists. … But what really matters is that the engagement of the members in this organization is much deeper than the engagement that a lot of people are now trying to add onto existing news sites. This is the heart of it, you can’t get much more engaged than owning a piece of it.