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Media: purpose before profit?


Positive News Editor-in-Chief Sean Dagan Wood © ​Pedro Rudolphi

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The question of purpose before profit is something that independent media have been exploring in various ways for some time.

Now, Positive News, the world’s longest-established publication dedicated to positive and solutions-focused journalism, is pioneering a new way to finance and run a media business: a crowdfunded media co-operative, owned by its journalists and readers.

While some local media and a small number of national publications have become co-operatives and raised capital through a community share offer, Positive News is believed to be the first to do so at a global level through online crowdfunding.

Positive News started on a kitchen table in a farm tucked away in rural Shropshire, some 22 years ago. It is a publication focusing on kindness, co-operation, creativity and innovation – for many, a breath of fresh air in a media saturated with problems, conflicts, disasters, wars, crimes and tragedies.

‘In addition to Who, What, Where, When and Why, we also ask: What now?’, says Danielle Batist, a journalist at Positive News and co-founder of the Constructive Journalism Project.

‘Rather than merely reporting on what has happened, we are also exploring what could happen. If we are investigating problems, we should also investigate solutions.’

The publication is now based at the Impact Hub in Islington, London, has a small print circulation (10,000), but a fast-growing online readership and 160,000 followers on social media. It is also attracting interest from other media.

The idea that news is something that is broken is slowly being questioned by media outlets all over the world. Mainstream media, like the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera and many others are experimenting with solution-focused sections and a more balanced news agenda.

When Positive News, which had been financially supported through a membership scheme and a few generous donors, struggled to survive after the death of their main benefactor last year, co-operative ownership seemed like the perfect way forward to raise investment while protecting their ethos.

‘Creating a co-operative and issuing community shares offers a way for us to raise capital while at the same time creating a robust, democratic ownership structure and an engaged community of support,’ says Positive News editor-in-chief Seán Dagan Wood.

‘This becomes the foundation for our business model: we’re financing our social purpose rather than just selling content.’

The organization must raise a minimum of £200,000 ($314,000) to help build their team, develop a new website, relaunch their print publication and build the audience and income streams they need to sustain them in the long-term.

In less than two weeks since the official launch of their #OwnTheMedia campaign in London, readers and journalists have nearly reached half the target – £96,5000 – showing the level of support for the type of journalism Positive News is producing and the business model they are offering.

Says Batist: ‘The people formerly known as the audience – as media critic Jay Rosen famously called them back in 2006 – have experienced a dramatic shift in power in the last decade. They became active participants of the journalistic process, with new platforms and tools at their disposal to air their views and make their voices heard.’

‘At Positive News, we are now going a step further. We are putting those people at the heart of our publication. Our readers, journalists and supporters all become owners. As a journalist, I think our model creates a unique way of working that will allow us to really be tuned in to the needs of the people we serve.’

Positive News’ shares have a nominal value of £1 ($1.57) each. With a minimum investment of £50 ($78) and a maximum of £100,000 ($150,000), every shareholder will have an equal vote on matters such as electing the board of directors.

The #OwnTheMedia campaign also represents a new phase for Crowdfunder, who selected Positive News to launch its Community Shares platform on Crowdfunder.co.uk in partnership with The Community Shares Company. Community shares enable communities to get together to buy shares in a project that has a strong community benefit.

#OwnTheMedia, Positive News community share campaign runs until 8 July 2015. See: OwnTheMedia.org

Veronique Mistiaen is a journalist writing about human rights, international development, social issues and the environment for leading publications in the Britain and internationally, including Newsweek, The Economist,The Guardian, Telegraph and Positive News, among others. She is also a media trainer and lecturer. @VeroMistiaen

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