March 4, 2009

Suddenly it’s OK to say ‘Co-Op’

Last year I was advised (by wise and admired colleagues) that I shouldn’t use the phrase “producer’s co-op” to describe Independent Arts & Media and, because it sounded too, whaddyacall, commie.

It was advice I took, and generally it feels like a good rhetorical push away from the cliche. Nevertheless, as conversations about these projects deepen, I usually DO wind up referencing the term. It’s so darn practical and plainspoken.

So I finally look at the Phil Bronstein item in the Huffington Post about how the whole newspaper crash is his fault — well, kinda, though not exactly for the reasons he lists — and there, at the end, amidst the gleeful contrition, I am startled to discover the following, extremely tasty passage:

Cooperation is the underlying key, I’m pretty certain about that. And this is true to a degree that the once iconoclastic, individualist, and pugnaciously competitive world of newspaper publishing (think Joseph Pulitzer and W.R. Hearst) has not been so well prepped to handle.

Neither is the Justice Department Anti-Trust division, which itself has still been operating on a 1930s model. There are no threatening monopolies in a graveyard, except a conspiracy of silence, something appreciated only by people who abuse power.

But like the old hippie co-ops, everyone who needs cooperative help has to give something up — some individuality, some privacy, some ownership — in the spirit of a larger purpose.

This process will be even messier and more jarring than it already has been. But it’s necessary and should not end up in a cannibalistic frenzy where tears and angry spittle lubricate the jaws and an informed and curious public is the biggest loser.

Holy smokes! Phil, where ya been all my life?

Keep in mind that we do have a quasi-monopoly situation in the Bay Area w/ Mr. Singleton’s Bay Area News Group, and that by co-operation we certainly should not return to the dull old days of the Hearst/Chronicle Publishing Joint Operating Agreement.

For a co-op to really count as journalistically significant, it has to be geared towards supporting that type of reporting that is so important, yet so unprofitable in the Wall Street model — the public interest stuff. You don’t need a producer’s co-op to do lifestyle reporting, restaurant reviews or style sections.

For more info on a new producer’s co-op for journalists, media producers and culture-makers of all stripes, framed in the context of supporting dialogue in a democracy, check out the new Independent Arts & Media home page.

For more on a specific effort to apply a producer’s co-op model to journalism, check out the LOCAL.NEWSDESK.ORG proposal, which is a Changemakers finalist.

Inquiries, partners, advisers and donations welcome!