With over 800 new co-owners of Positive News and more than £155,000 raised so far, it seems that crowdfunded and crowd-owned media appeals to many. Dave Boyle asks whether this model could revive rapidly declining traditional media outlets
Despite the many challenges to media business models, it’s striking that so few have looked at the possibility of making readers themselves the people responsible for their futures. For too long, the media relied on advertising to subsidise production costs. That subsidy is in jeopardy, and so either costs are cut or revenues have to rise. The latter is harder to enforce than the former, hence the continual decline of journalists on good contracts.
But what if there was a way to increase revenue by making consumers into active participants? Not people who could just comment here and there before retreating to a safe distance, but actually given meaningful power over the fate of the publication produced in their name?
After all, many publications are like sports teams – people’s affinity for them speaks of their own values and identity. They care about the publications they read, be it news about their hobby, their community or their beliefs.
“Only ownership gives you the responsibility for the publication’s culture and the power to preserve it.”
It seems odd that so few media outlets have recognised the potential here, but then neither have sports been particularly interested either – and that’s because ownership is power, and to share ownership is to share power.
To own the media is to exercise power, and an awful lot of people involved in traditional media are trapped on the horns of a dilemma: they want the power they currently have in that role, but also want the money from their readers and supporters. I’ve seen organisations baulk at this idea, convinced there must be some alternative to making the people formerly known as the readership all-powerful.
Lots of people working in traditional media would say that their readers agree with them and their worldview, and this argument is particularly prolific among those on the receiving end of criticism, such as defendants in the various hacking trials or executives involved in the Leveson Inquiry.
Traditional media relied on the concept of consumer sovereignty, that regardless of who actually owned a publication, the readers were the most important. Yet readership figures have been declining for decades, undermining this very argument and so the media’s cynicism, its partiality, its concern with conflict and heat at the expense of light, seems to be as bad as it’s ever been.
Consumers aren’t, in the end, sovereign – owners are. Only ownership gives you the power to direct the values of a publication. Only ownership gives you the responsibility for the publication’s culture and the power to preserve it. And only Positive News is giving its supporters the opportunity to take this responsibility on.
Positive News has been flying a flag for a different kind of media for years. Now it’s taking that to a whole new level. The media might have taken 20 years to realise there’s a hunger for constructive journalism, but they’ll cotton on much quicker if Positive News gives them a way they can stay alive.
Become a Positive News co-owner here