What’s a co-op, and why do we want to be one?
Before we even jump into this, know that you can always tell us what you’re thinking by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. And please email us to tell us what you think about this proposal — and consider taking this survey.
At The Mendocino Voice we’re trying to build a new kind of newspaper, and we believe that reader input and democracy should be a vital part, not only of The Mendo Voice, but of news publishing in general. Which is why we want to become a reader-worker co-op. We see the co-op as the most effective structure to provide general news to a rural population like ours, and to do so with greater accountability, access and accuracy. We’re not done growing here, we’re not even really started, and we want to take the next step with you, our most dedicated readers.
Since our very beginning our motto has been “news for all of Mendocino.” We think that it is the civic role of the newspaper to fairly and accurately cover all segments of society, from under-served remote hilltop residents to the county seat, from our tribal community to Spanish speakers who have never had access to much news in Mendo. And we understand that in today’s world, digital news is what people want, and how we can best create the scope and economies of scale necessary to make quality local news production accessible to everyone in rural America.
We do not want Mendocino to become another, so called, “news desert,” as has happened to county after county across America. But that’s exactly the danger we face since the four most important and cherished newspapers, The Willits News, the Mendocino Beacon, the Fort Bragg Advocate, and the Ukiah Daily Journal were bought up by the national conglomerate Digital First Media, which is in turn owned by the hedge-fund Alden Global Capital. We know this first hand because the staff of the Mendo Voice has been comprised entirely of people who formerly worked at one of these papers, and we saw the lay-offs, and attrition that slowly starved these papers, leaving a skeleton local staff making minimum wage and papers full of articles reprinted from other places.
The news industry as it works today is extractive, taking profits out of small towns and sending them to distant shareholders and to support the mansion buying habits of rich CEOs. We know that often the big stories here may only matter to locals, and that when out of town reporters arrive, they often get it wrong. We want to build a model where local control also means keeping dollars local, with any excess profits being reinvested into better news coverage, or possibly even going back to our local co-op members as a rebate. We want to make sure Mendocino has a reliable, sustainable news source, one that creates jobs that support our communities, that won’t be shuttered on an investor’s whim, or allow advertising dollars to dictate which communities get coverage. We want to fill the gaps in local news, and go beyond that, to create a locally-accountable, transparent local news source with timely, in-depth, and reliable, and democratic coverage that Mendocino County deserves. In the last two years, we’ve worked hard to earn your trust, and provide useful information to help you navigate your daily lives. But now we need your help to make this next step a reality.
And local control will mean strengthening that trust by giving readers a direct voice and vote in the operations of the newspaper. We’re talking about having readers elect a “public editor,” who would serve as a check and balance on the editorial staff. Readers would also get the opportunity to vote to assign a couple enterprise stories per month, to the reporters.
Many of you will be familiar with the idea of a “CSA,” which is community supported agriculture. In this model you pay a monthly subscription and get a box of veggies from a specific farmer. Your support in advance ensures that they have the capital to grow the veggies that you’ll eventually eat. Well, think of this as community supported journalism. And inasmuch as a CSA lets you have a relationship with your farmer and a connection to the food you eat, community support journalism creates access and accountability between you and your news source — and you know they’ll be there when you need them.
A co-op would give each member, whether a worker or a reader, a share in the newspaper, and a vote. It would keep money and power in the community and ensure democratic control, control by the people rather than by whomever had the deepest pockets.
Some of the ways we’ve tried to innovate coverage in this area are with documents, interactive maps, live public meetings, and more, since we’re not bound by how many printed advertisements will fill the paper.
-We’ve brought you extensive real time coverage about breaking news about road closures, floods, and wildfires — being the first to report from our county’s deadliest fire, and then the state’s largest, with ongoing updates on everything from evacuations to recovery resources, live video from the fire’s edge and from community meetings, during multi-day power outages. If you see smoke, we let you know what’s going on, and fact-check the rumors — and when a new fire sprung up in Covelo, at the height of the Mendocino Complex, the Eel Fire, causing immediate evacuations, we were the only newspaper to even cover it, writing a story in our car, from a parking lot in Ukiah, that was shared by thousands of people in less than an hour.
-We’ve brought you new kinds of reporting about ways to get involved with local government: interactive maps and podcasts about rural governance in our grant-funded solutions journalism project Mendocino Maps, live q&as with supervisorial candidates, broadcasting forums of community planning meetings, supervisors discussions, and elections forums, and reports on rural legislative issues including updates on your elected officials and regional agencies like the state waterboard.
-Coverage from everywhere from Point Arena to Covelo, including news from our tribal communities, news in Spanish, plus a variety of community voices sharing perspectives on everything from the farmers market match program to growing hemp, guides on outdoor adventures and cannabis regulations, and photos, podcasts, and videos from everything from floods to protests and marches to wildflowers and snowstorms.
-We’ve published over 16,000 daily articles and reporting projects over the last 30 months, and you can read testimonials from our readers below. We’ve received funding from the Solutions Journalism Network’s Renewing Democracy grants to create a comprehensive resource and podcast about local government, Mendocino Maps, and are proud members of the Local Independent Online News Publishers’s Revenue from Advertising Mentorship Program. Our work has reached hundred of thousands of readers, and we’ve been featured in Poynter, the New York Times, the BBC, the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED radio and television, the California Report, Cannabis Wire, and other regional and national publications. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, watch our videos here and here, and listen to our radio show. Or read more on Wikipedia!
We believe that a truly community oriented news service should embody these values:
- Transparency — Our readers should know how the news sausage is made — both in terms of editorial decisions, and how we decide on the budget.
- Accountability — It’s important that the community have direct input into the function of their local news service, and reader ownership is one way to ensure that.
- Accessibility — Not only should you be able to hold us accountable, all corners of the community should some input into what the news looks like, even if you live on a remote hill or can’t afford monthly dues.
- Sustainability — This means that the news should be there, even when the hedge-funds and big corporations leave. Distributing membership across the whole community ensures this, and ensures our daily coverage continues even when advertising revenue varies. Plus, our online coverage saves trees and time!
- Equity — The news, including coverage, bias, and access should be equitable to all in the community— not just already powerful people and businesses in big cities.
- Democracy — Local news should help you learn more about your local government, and engage people in the democratic process. We also think a democratic process is both fairer and can do better, and we want our news organization to reflect that.
- Usability – We focus on useful information that helps you navigate your day, and understand the bigger context to build and grow our communities.
We want to make sure our coverage is serving all of Mendocino County — and we want your help to do that. Here’s some of what we’d like to implement:
- A public editor, who will be a way for our members to have a formal way to communicate their needs, concerns, and provide input. The public editor will be elected by our members, and also serve as an ombudsman and a membership coordinator. Many newspapers used to have a public editor, to provide information to readers about how the news gets made, as well as to provide a different perspective for the editorial staff to make sure our coverage remains accountable, useful, and serving our community.
- Monthly meetings for our members, as well as regular events for our readers and the general public to provide feedback and talk about community-supported news.
- An ongoing series of stories about community-wide issues, with topics selected by our members, with additional features covering underserved areas and communities in Mendocino County. We call this program “Mendocino Voices,” and we’ll be developing that program with the help of our public editor over a six month pilot program. We plan for it to include regular columns, reports, and perspectives from all the different people living and working in different parts of our county — from county supervisors to your friends and neighbors, creating a community-wide forum for discussion on the issues that impact us all.
- We want to transition into a worker-reader co-op. This will enable news staff to provide information as a local utility, ensure transparency, and preclude outside economic interests from shaping the direction of the news service. We will also develop a way that monthly membership fees can be sponsored for community members who can’t afford a minimal cost, but still deserve a vote.
So we’ve been doing a ton of research and talking to other smart journalists across the country about this transition to a co-op, and we’re well on our way. But of course the most important people to talk to are you, our members and readers. We put out a survey, here, which you can fill out, trying to find out more about what you think a co-op should look like, and we’re already learning a lot from you. So for now we’ll leave you with some of the interesting and inspiring things that your fellow readers have told us. And please, do fill out the survey or send us an email at email@example.com.
Here’s what some of our subscribers wrote about the benefits of a co-op:
What we consider ‘big’ local stories are not important to people outside of our community. If consumers can make it financially viable for you to chase down local stories that no one else will, we should contribute for that benefit. Many of us are geographically isolated but that should not be a reason for us to be unaware of what is going on in our community- both the good and the bad.
I feel keeping the news local is vital to the informational health of our community. People who read the publication read it for local news and I feel that cannot be managed by an outsider organization.
And here’s what our readers and supporters have said about our work:
“The Mendocino Voice is doing a great job keeping our Mendocino community up to date on all the latest fire and community information and resources. Nice work!” – Assemblyman Jim Wood
“I’m frankly impressed that you have, without fail, had a current roads & conditions update posted every day by 6am. That’s crazy valuable and not something I’ve seen anywhere else, so major for that.” – Eli R. (Caltrans District 1 Public Information Officer)”
“If you live in Northern California, I recommend donating or subscribing to Mendocino Voice. They were pivotal in getting information during our recent fire and are filling an important gap in local media.” – Rain T.
“Rural communities rely heavily on local press like The Mendocino Voice as a vital means of communication. During the fire, they were a major vein of information for those completely cut off. If you can support them, please do.” Amanda R.
“This is Pulitzer Prize Winning Reporting! Thank you for the transparency and the truth.” Kelley B.
“The Mendocino Voice does a great job in presenting what is happening in the county. The rare publication that dives into Cannabis issues. At least we still have journalists who work to get the public information. A great new resource for what’s going on in the county.” — Ron E., local nursery owner
“How do I even begin to express my gratitude for all you do to keep our county informed. The Mendocino Voice always rises to the occasion to bring us this best & most informed information” — Karen B.
“The Mendocino Voice has been an invaluable resource for me. I appreciate their coverage of important local issues.” — Cuyler T.
“So thankful that our small communities can have someone go out and help us all stay connected and updated trough times when communication can be difficult.” — Jasmine D
“Finally a news source that is relevant and up to date on local accidents weather and crime. I can get my news on what’s happening now and not have to wait for the local newspapers to publish it a week later! Keep up the good work Mendovoice!” — Tara Sims
“The Mendocino Voice has been amazing in providing coverage of local emergencies. They are an indispensable resource.” — Lasara A.
“This is the page that my family on the east coast looked to for updates on the recent fires when I was unable to contact them. Once I had service, it was my go to place as well. You’ve really made a name for yourself! Great job!” — Melissa Bew
“Thank you so much for the news you provide. You are above and beyond the best news outlet in the area. You keep people safe, informed and sometimes even entertained. I honestly can’t say enough good things about you guys. Please keep it up!!!!!”
“I really appreciated your coverage of the recent fires. We don’t get breaking news coverage here in Mendo like they do in the city. You did a great job of filling that void.”
“Great job keeping the community informed. Up to date credible information is always important and helpful.” — Tieka M.
“Communication in Mendocino County is so sparse. Having a page to go to to get current information is a god send.” — Sallie P.
“This is a good bilingual newspaper aimed to the multicultural population. It also has great people working there!” – Josefina P.
“This is the kind of reporting on the cannabis industry I do not see everyday… so #thankful to have the Mendo Voice around!” — Will P.
“Excellent source of local news! Thank you so much for keeping us informed about what we need to know to stay safe and to help our neighbors.” — Doreen B
“They cover a wide variety of important, local issues, which can be so difficult to find coverage about! They take great care to be timely, give us what we need, and are incredibly responsive. Thanks Mendocino Voice!” – M.E.
“Great timely releases and a caring staff. They’re now my go-to for news for the area.” — Cher P
“Top notch reporting on Mendocino County issues often missed by other media.” — Annie L.
“We appreciate all the updates and that you are quick to respond.” Debbie C. former Willits News publisher
“MV tells me what IS. Not what they think I need to hear.” – Bobby L.
“Finally, a place to hear and see what’s actually going on, updated constantly. Thank you!” — Marilyn S.
“Accurate, timely, local news for a community that is largely ignored by the major broadcasters in the Bay Area.” – Paula R.
“I support them w small Monthly subscription -appreciate their local breaking news in our areas…Thanks to local press !” Kathy H.”
“On the spot with videos, interviews, and photos when a disaster happened. Great coverage of the fires and other Mendocino news.” Kym Kemp, local journalist and publisher in Humboldt County
“All the current and local news and the accessibility if there needs to be a correction or you have a question. Wonderful!” — Julia C.
“I’ve enjoyed the truth and honesty you have reported over all the months I’ve been following you.” — Martin D.
“Accurate, timely, local reporting. Great work, Mendo Voice!” – Jendi C.
“The best local news I’ve found.” – Claudia M.
“Best most up to date reporting on the fires that I’ve found. Even better than the Mendo Sheriffs page. Thanks!” – Sue P.
“They do a great job and are a great resource! TV stations ignore Mendocino County, Mendocino Voice gets you the info!” — Kathryn F.
“Thanks so much for updating us when the media left us in the dark as to what’s going on. So grateful for you.” — Erin L.
“Thank you! Such a valuable resource for the community I love.” — Lyza R.
“Love this relevant and up to date news source, it’s nice to have a trusted local news source that doesn’t have a ratings book to worry about” — Molly B
“Thanks for always keeping us informed of the comings and goings! I always check here first for any sort of updates on the hood.” — Barbarella
“Very glad to have this voice in our county.” — Catherine Vibert”
“Thanks so much for updating us when the media left us in the dark as to what’s going on. So grateful for you.” — Innana R
“Keeping everyone informed has been such a wonderful service. Thank you!!!.” — Susan L.
“Excellent real-time source of local news, by real locals!” — Tara B.
“These guys n gals keep us updated like no other. Crucial for us folks in Mendo.” – Josh K.
“They were diligent in keeping the community up to date. Great team. Thank you.” – Julia R.
The following are anonymous quotes from a previous survey:
“YOUR VOICE IS GETTING ‘TRUE’ INFORMATION OUT THERE THAT IS NOT A BIAS POINT OF VIEW”
“Reporting on issues that the UDJ and other local news sources don’t cover.”
“Working from your hearts!”
“Having great local understanding of issues in our area.”
“You cover the news in a media black hole.”
“You folks obviously know the areas that you are reporting about and the subjects that pertain to our county.”
“You seem to be as unbiased as possible.”
“Professional, to the point, no grandstanding, no bullshit reporting”
“I really appreciate you guys!”
“Thanks for offering an alternative to the local corporate media trash that refuses to examine blatant corruption in the county and beyond.”