A UK-based publication has become perhaps the first media outlet to harness two complementary concepts in a unique partnership, resulting in a crowdfunded co-operative. Positive News, which focuses on constructive journalism, breached its crowdfunding target and now has 1,525 new owners.
Earlier this month, despite a nervewracking lull around the half-way point, Positive News stormed passed its £200,000 (€282,000) crowdfunding target to secure £263,422 from new investors over a 30-day #OwnTheMedia campaign.
The investors, now co-owners, hail from 33 countries around the world including Malaysia, Iceland, Costa Rica and Greece, creating a global audience with good reason to see this project succeed.
Editor-in-chief Seán Dagan Wood says it’s a model that can be replicated by other media outlets.
The project marks a new horizon in the fast-changing media landscape, especially online, where click bait is king and content is suffering. It’s about integrity and social responsibility, according to Wood. “If media are willing to let go of some power and hand that power to the audience, in exchange they will get an audience that will sustain them. That can end up being a much more reliable and socially beneficial way to get your financial sustenance than relying on corporate advertising and other means,” he says.
Creating a cooperative media outlet through crowdfunding is pioneering, but aiming to do so without without the need for advertisers could be regarded by some as rather foolhardy.
Wood, however, sees a bright future for the website and quarterly newspaper, which is set to re-launch as a magazine, with a strong online presence based within a community of committed readers. It will also run courses in constructive journalism.
“It’s a new way of doing media where it’s not just us trying to sell content. There’s huge demand for an ethical and responsible model. It’s not just because we are doing positive news, it’s for people who want to feel they have a say in the kind of journalism that is shaping the society they live in. A media outlet that is providing social benefit, not causing us to separate from each other and fear the world.
"That's not to distract from the fact that we need good quality journalism – investigative in particular – but the kind of general negativity and concentration of ownership of the media and how we see these agendas coming into the media is a real concern for people," he says. The concept of "positive news" might raise eyebrows among cynical hacks, but in terms of generating revenue, it is effective. "Positive news stories are shared way more than negative stories," Wood says, a fact he discussed recently with Huffington Post co-founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington.
“There are lots of media organisations thinking, how do we get people to pay for journalism now? Our answer is, you have integrity in the content you create, show that you are doing it for social benefit and not siphoning off any profit for shareholders, rich proprietors and media moguls.
“Give people the kind of journalism they want and they will pay for it to the tune of £253,000 just to see it go forward,” he says.
Established 22 years ago by founder Shauna Crockett-Burrows, Positive News was funded by a small number of benefactors. Wood joined the company as a freelance journalist and volunteer in 2009. Before her death in 2012, Crockett-Burrows handed the reins to Wood, who ran the paper solo for three years. The death of a main benefactor last year prompted him to bring forward his plan to turn the paper into a crowdfunded cooperative.
“We decided to become a cooperative owned by our readers and journalists because we felt it would be a more democratic way to run a media business, it makes us more accountable and protects us from any vested interests that other media are susceptible to, whether its corporate, political, or ideological interests,” he said.
Funders have made a social investment in the content they wish to read. The 1,525 co-owners will elect a board of directors to ensure all content and direction fits the
charter, which sets out the company’s values and editorial principles.
“It was a win-win situation where we gave our readers the opportunity to become our owners and have more of a say in the culture, values and direction of the organisation,” Wood said.
He plans to further use the crowdfunding model in the future, for smaller scale projects with the Positive News umbrella, such as a series on a certain topic.
Meanwhile, other media organisations around the world will be watching the progress of Positive News with interest.
“Co-operative ownership creates a really dedicated audience. And now we have 1,525 co-owners, they are not going to want to see us fail.”
And while crowdfunding was a risk, Wood was confident he knew his readership well enough to take a chance. "There is a depth of passionate support for Positive News, it's only a small media organisation but it's had a huge ripple effect. It is deeply valued among its readers," he said.