Barcelona model could save ailing newspapers

Businesses can suceed without relentless drive for profit

Wed, Mar 13, 2013, 11:11

FC Barcelona is one of the most successful football clubs in the world. Unlike almost all of the major clubs elsewhere in Europe, however, Barcelona is not owned by an oligarch or even by a cabal of oligarchs, but is owned by its 175,000 members who each pay an annual membership fee of about ¤200. It is a not-for-profit organisation; nobody gets paid dividends, although the players are among the richest in the world.

One of the most extraordinary internet phenomena is Wikipedia, the online free encyclopaedia, which is the sixth most popular website in the world, according to Alexa, the web information company (the top 10 are: Google; Facebook; YouTube; Yahoo; the Chinese language search engine Baidu. com; Wikipedia; the Microsoft search engine Windows Live; QQ.com, China ’s most used internet portal; Amazon. com; and Twitter).

Founded in January 2001, by August 2009 Wikipedia had more than 4 million articles in English and over 18 million total users of the website. There are 285 different language editions of the site, of which five have more than a million articles (English, German, French, Dutch and Italian). It has open editing, which means that articles on the site are open to vandalism and error but comparisons with Encyclopaedia Britannica, for instance, have shown that in many crucial areas of knowledge, Wikipedia is at least as reliable. 90,000 editors contribute to the site and do so voluntarily. The site is funded by donations and carries no advertisements.

One of the most successful corporations in Spain is the Mondragon Corporation, based in the Basque region. By the end of 2011 it employed nearly 84,000 people working in 256 companies. It is a co-operative controlled by workers paid on the basis that the differential in pay averages across the co-operative are no more than 5:1.

What these examples show is that it is possible to create successful enterprises outside the ambit of the capitalist paradigm of oligarch ownership and control, relentlessly driven by profit, where workers are treated often merely as commodities.

A variant of these examples could be the saviour of the newspaper industry, more immediately of the Sunday Business Post and the Irish Examiner , should the former emerge from examinership.

With the Sunday Business Post , it might be possible to fund this by way of a public subscription to an association that would publish the newspaper and would continue to fund aspects of it thereafter.

Essentially the idea is (and, obviously, variants of this might work also): that a public campaign be initiated to get 50,000 people to give ¤100 each to a new publishing venture that would be democratically controlled by the 50,000 members, who would elect the board of the company (an equal number of men and women) and decide on all the major corporate decisions that would arise (no single individual or corporation would be allowed control over more than one share).

This would raise ¤5 million, sufficient for the newspaper and for a radical change of its content, orientation and title. “The Sunday Business Post ” would remain the title of the business section but the new package as a whole might be titled: “The Sunday People’s Post ”, covering the wider areas of interest that most Sunday newspapers cover.

It would rival the major domestic oligarch conglomerate, Independent News and Media, in which Denis O’Brien is the largest shareholder, and the major foreign oligarch conglomerate, News International, controlled by Rupert Murdoch. Freedom of the press is primarily a privilege of the owners of the press. If therefore the owners come from a wide base of citizens then freedom of the press can be enjoyed more democratically, and still be free of State interference.

With an ownership base of 50,000, there would be a solid circulation base, and the ownership base, if managed properly, could involve, via the internet, advising on editorial content, evaluating the newspaper of the previous Sunday, providing story “leads” and contributing to a special “People’s Journalism” section in the newspaper.

It would be founded on an editorial charter, stating the objectives of the newspaper (to hold institutions of power and persons of power accountable; to reflect in the editorial policy and content of the newspaper a commitment to the ideals of fairness and equality in society; a promise to insist on scrupulous truthfulness and fairness in the newspaper’s reports and commentary; and independence from all vested interests).

Special investigations could be funded by donations from the members. It requires merely the persuasiveness to get 50,000 people to contribute a modest amount and then the expertise to involve meaningfully the owners in the direction of the enterprise and the expertise to make a commercial and editorial success of the venture.

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