Stop, collaborate and listen…

Alex Wood of the Berlin Project

Originally uploaded by berlinproject.

Last week I blogged about the launch of a journalism cooperative by the team behind The Berlin Project. There’s been a lot of talk about new business models for journalism, but the idea of cooperatives has barely been mentioned. So it’s refreshing to see someone breaking new ground in that respect.

Another model deserving more attention is social enterprise. At News:Rewired earlier this month, Philip John, one of the brains behind hyperlocal site The Lichfield Blog, outlined his plans to turn it into a social enterprise. In an excellent post on the JournalLocal site, John suggests that to save journalism, local media could go down the social enterprise route and fund its work through grants and subsidies.

So which organisations have already gone down the social enterprise route? Well, my own magazine New Start has. And as John points out in his post, way back in 1920s Manchester the Guardian was founded as a not-for-profit venture.

These publications have seen social enterprise as a sustainable model that reflects their values. Social enterprise status can also open up sources of money normally available only to charities. But another motivation for becoming a social enterprise – making a difference.

People with Voices is a good example of this. This London-based social enterprise aims to bridge the gap between the mainstream and ethnic media and tackle under-representation of minorities in the mainstream media. Meanwhile, Catch 22 a journalism training academy and communications agency, works young people with difficult backgrounds.

The idea of journalism cooperatives is less developed in the UK, but there are many examples in North America. One example is the Chicago News Cooperative, set up by a former Chicago Tribune Journalist, who has formed partnerships with the New York Times and the local public television station. Another is the Canadian Writers’ Group, a cooperative representing 50 freelancers and corporate clients, including some of Canada’s top publications.

Social enterprise in particular seems a good model for hyperlocal sites with a commitment to their community that goes beyond distributing information. I’m also impressed with how social enterprise is enabling journalists to make a difference to society. But I think the concept of journalism cooperatives is even more exciting because it offers individual journalists the chance to collaborate on projects that interest them.

At the Future of News event, where Alex Woods launched his cooperative, organiser Adam Westbrook asked us to form groups to generate our own co-op ideas. In the pub afterwards, it emerged that the event has inspired some participants to establish their own cooperative. This is an exiting development and one I intend to follow closely – who knows I may even get involved myself!

When I resumed posting on this blog, my intention was to combine posts about journalism with posts about my patch – broadly social policy. So far, posts about the former have dominated and posts about the latter have been conspicuous in their absence. Hopefully, this post reconciles both subject matters.

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