Are cooperatively owned news projects an idea whose time has finally come?

Kevon Paynter. Photo via Bloc by Block News.

Among the more intriguing business models for news organizations is the co-op. They’ve been slow to get started, but their time may finally be coming. For years I followed the Banyan Project’s efforts to launch a demonstration site in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which ended up falling short. The Mendocino Voice is transitioning from for-profit to a co-op that will be owned by employees and readers. And the Voice is not alone.

Last week I sat in on a webinar called “Cooperatives in a Changing Media Landscape,” part of the Next Gen Entrepreneurship online conference. Two people immersed in co-ops discussed their experience: Kevon Paynter, co-founder and executive director of a project called Bloc by Block News, which reports on news in Maryland and aggregates the work of other publishers; and Jasper Wang, the co-owner and vice president of revenue and operations at The Defector, a mostly sports site founded by former employees of Deadspin, which in its heyday was part of the Gawker network. The moderator was Olivia Henry, a graduate student at the University of California in Davis.

The two projects are very different. The Defector was born big, launching last year with 19 employees — 18 of them editors and writers — and 10,000 subscribers. It currently has 39,000 subscribers. According to Wang, everyone is being paid a salary. The lowest is $58,500, with the possibility of making more depending on how much revenue the site is generating. (It’s more complicated than that, but never mind.)

Jasper Wang. Photo via McSweeney’s.

“We’ve been financially sustainable since pretty early on,” Wang said. The site is owned by the employees, he added, with everyone participating in the governance of the site.

For those of us who are concerned about the local news crisis, Bloc by Block is intriguing. Paynter said the spark for it came during the 2016 election. When he went home to New Jersey to vote, he said, he knew who he would cast his presidential ballot for — but he didn’t have a clue about many of the other offices that were also being contested.

“I had no idea who to vote for when it came down to the local issues,” he said. He added that when he started talking with people after the election, many told him they simply vote for one party, Google the candidates or “we kind of make a guess the night before.”

Bloc by Block is supported by nonprofit foundation money, including Maryland Humanities; Paynter sees covering the arts and culture as part of his local news mission. The project is developing a mobile app that will allow users to see news from multiple publishers. Noting that there are more than 130 newspapers in Maryland, Paynter said, “There’s a discoverability issue, and we want to solve for that.”

Unlike The Defector, Bloc by Block is what Paynter calls a “multi-stakeholder cooperative,” with ownership shared among readers and the publishers whose news is being aggregated. Readers themselves can cover local governmental and neighborhood meetings, he added.

“It’s really about civic engagement as well as news,” he said, explaining that he wants his audience to “not simply be passive consumers of information but active participants.”

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Why the Globe’s pullback on the Kraft video is a mistake

The Boston Globe has dropped out of the legal battle for the Robert Kraft sex video, according to Deadspin. In a statement, the Globe said it no longer had any interest in obtaining the video since Florida authorities had backed off their original claim that human trafficking was involved. The statement said in part:

Authorities have now said the charges against Robert Kraft are not part of a human trafficking case. While we still have an interest in video from outside the spa, we’ve decided to focus our energy on the famously weak public records laws of Massachusetts.

Here’s the problem. Florida’s public records law is well-known for its all-encompassing nature, and that’s good for open government and a free press. Though it’s true that no one needs to see the video outside the criminal justice system, any chipping away of free press rights could have unanticipated negative effects somewhere down the road.

Bad move. Fortunately, about 20 other news organizations continue to seek the video.

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Shaughnessy defends Globe over deleted sentence

Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote another in a series of tough commentaries Monday about the firing of Don Orsillo, the popular Red Sox announcer who’s been let go by New England Sports Network (NESN). But as the evening wore on, one sentence was dropped from the piece, published on the Globe’s website in advance of Tuesday’s print edition. The sentence read:

Two Sox employees told the Globe that workers at Fenway turnstiles were ordered to confiscate any signs supporting Orsillo as fans entered Fenway.

Jared Carrabis has the before and after:

Given that Globe publisher John Henry is also principal owner of the Red Sox, which in turn owns most of NESN, Carrabis’ tweet set off a storm. That led David Skok, the Globe’s managing editor for digital and general manager of BostonGlobe.com, to respond: “Story was published early, sourcing was weak so the line was removed. Our coverage on this speaks for itself.”

I emailed Shaughnessy. He got back to me immediately, saying, “It’s all part of the editing process that is always ongoing.” When I followed up by asking him how he would respond to Orsillo fans who suspect that Red Sox ownership intervened, he said only: “It is part of the Globe editing process.”

So what to make of this? It is a fact that the Globe has been pretty tough in covering the Orsillo story. Shaughnessy and sports media columnist Chad Finn have each weighed in several times, with Finn citing “NESN’s bewildering mishandling of the situation.” Boston Herald sports columnist Steve Buckley got an exclusive with Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, whose reasoning for replacing Orsillo boiled down to a belief that replacement-to-be Dave O’Brien would be better. But Shaughnessy picked up on Buckley’s column, even linking to his competitor.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I think we should take Skok and Shaughnessy at their word. Far from soft-pedaling the firing of Orsillo, the Globe has been fairly relentless in going after NESN for what can only be described as a foolish move. (Yes, I signed the petition to keep Orsillo.)

Monday night’s mini-drama was just another sign that John Henry’s ownership of the Red Sox is always going to be an issue — regardless of the reality.

More: After I posted this late last night, I received several comments on Twitter and Facebook wondering why the Globe didn’t make some note of the change in Shaughnessy’s column. For instance, here’s Nathan Lamb:

Based on my observations, I’d say that newspapers in general — the Globe among them — are haphazard about acknowledging changes made to online stories until after those stories have appeared in print. The mentality seems to be that everything is a work-in-progress until a tree has been sacrificed to immortalize it.

I don’t know that it makes sense to have a policy that would be 100 percent consistent. In this case, though, the deleted sentence drew enough attention that the Globe ought to have inserted something into Shaughnessy’s column, even if it was a brief note that it had been updated.

Still more: Sounds like the Globe may have gotten some serious pushback from the Red Sox on the accuracy of Shaughnessy’s reporting, according to Deadspin.

And even more: From Mike Silverman of the Boston Herald:

A nasty rumor spread that the owners let the stadium’s security forces know any pro-Orsillo signs were to be confiscated, but a survey of six security personnel at an entrance gate and throughout the stadium said no special Orsillo signage edict was in effect.

A team spokesman confirmed that like every night, signs would not be allowed in or confiscated once they were inside only if they blocked somebody’s view or contained profanities.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

“Dan-Haters” hit a new low

Either Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy’s daughter did something she’ll regret, or he’s being done in by some Internet fakery.

According to the sports blog Deadspin, Shaughnessy’s daughter Kate recently sent an e-mail to family and friends asking them to pump up Dad’s Amazon.com ratings for his most recent book, “Senior Year: A Father, A Son, and High School Baseball.” The idea, she writes (if she did), is to counter the “Dan-Haters.”

The result — and do you really have to ask? — is that “Senior Year” is now getting absolutely hammered on Amazon.

I considered not writing this item. Deadspin offers zero evidence that the e-mail is genuine, and, thus, its scooplet doesn’t meet even minimal journalistic standards. (If Deadspin has vetted its information in some credible way, it should say so — and I’ll be happy to make that clear.) But Deadspin is part of the well-known Gawker gossip network (Wonkette, Gawker, Defamer, et al.), and, according to Technorati, is ranked 81st in the top 100. It would be ridiculous to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

So, regardless of the e-mail’s authenticity, think of this as a bit of online cultural anthropology: “Dan-Haters” are using Shaughnessy’s daughter in an attempt to run down his book, whether she actually wrote the e-mail or not.

I’m inclined to think the e-mail is genuine. Besides, it’s the sort of thing I’d like to think one of my kids would write if I were in the same situation.

I count myself neither as a “Dan-Hater” nor as a Shaughnessy fan (shouldn’t the Globe’s lead sports columnist, you know, like sports?). But this is just vicious — and, sadly, characteristic of some of Shaughnessy’s more unhinged online detractors. (Via Universal Hub.)