Banyan Project: Project Summary

The Banyan Publishing Corporation is a nonprofit co-op consisting of 28 senior journalists, academics, web developers, sociologists, researchers, business and financial strategists, and advocates. Its mission is to “strengthen democracy by pioneering a sustainable and scalable business model for community-scale web journalism that serves the broad public of everyday citizens and engages their civic energy.”

Banyan, which is pioneering reader-owned co-op news sites at the community level (based in Haverhill, Mass.) is committed to creating and using an Engagement/Conversion Digital Tool-Set in its affiliated sites—and to repeated iteration to build on its sites’ reader experiences as well as reader experiences from all Largo sites that adopt the new open-source tool-set.

The Banyan Project’s Engagement/Conversion Digital Tool-Set has two intertwined and synergistic purposes: 1) energizing response to news that online sites present through the Largo CMS and channeling this energy into civic engagement, thus meeting the sites’ need for greater engagement with civically interested audiences, and 2) converting a subset of these audiences into loyal members whose continuing donations create a new and continuing revenue stream to help ensure the sites’ sustainability.

The synergy flows from an understanding that 1) the end product of journalism is not the news so much as it is the civic engagement that news nourishes; 2) civically interested readers will perceive value when sites that nourish them with news also offer them easy-to-use tools for engaging with other readers about topics of shared civic interest; 3) readers who value this engagement are prospects to be converted into paying site members, and 4) readers who make the commitment inherent in membership aremore likely to engage in the site’s civic conversations.

Banyan seeks to develop a WordPress plug-in to “energize” user engagement when commenting in a story and later convert those audiences into loyal, paying members. This tool-set would work through a number of components: buttons and pop-up windows to keep the user engaging and reading content as well as the opportunity to collaborate editorially. Users would be given provisional free access to these tools for 90 days, and afterward they would be required to pay a membership fee that Banyan says can be set by each publisher.

What knowledge will be gained from this experiment?

Banyan seeks to learn how best to continually strengthen online news sites’ sustainability by 1) building reader engagement through Forums and Editorial Collaboration tools, and 2) building a base of donating members through the Conversion tools, creating a new revenue stream.

Based on learnings from sites running the Tool-Set it develops, the Banyan Project is committed to repeated iteration in pursuit of ever-greater reader engagement and membership revenue. Banyan’s commitment is assured because the Tool-Set is crucial to its new cooperative business model—Banyan-affiliated sites’ success hinges on the Tool-Set’s success.