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Proposed by - The 2014 Media Co-op Board Special Transition Committee 

Preamble (250 words Max): In order to accommodate the need for higher pay, greater participation, responsiveness to movements, and the need to continually expand the reach and financial support of the media co-op, deep changes to the co-op’s “national office” are needed. In this proposal, staff efforts will be centred in Montreal. Staff pay will start at $15/hour, and full time staff will notably not do any editorial work. The Dominion will cease to exist as a regular print publication, and will be divided into two entities: a monthly online publication exclusively for members, and 3-4 special issues per year supported by the Media Co-op. A rotating national editorial committee will take on editorial duties for the online publication and national web sites, while print issues will be handled by ad hoc teams – local-based, affinity based, or recruited. Crucial to the overall plan is a steady increase in involvement in the national office, by aspiring grassroots journalists, media co-op alumni and regular contributors and collaborators.

Why do you think the current set up in the Media Co-op isn't working?

  • The wave of enthusiastic volunteerism that fuelled us for our first 10 years has tapered off, and our staff turnover has increased markedly

  • This is a natural progression, but as it stands we really have little capacity to handle this reality

  • We spread out a little too much. It was 2009, we were feeling quite optimistic, and we created staff positions in four different cities, with the idea that they would anchor sharp growth in the locals

  • Low pay, fundraising pressure, a virtual work environment mediated by conference calls and email discussions have made our structure a liability

  • The Dominion is taking the majority of our time and resources. We love the Dominion, but we've realized that it is dominating staff time to the exclusion of other priorities. Until our last staff exodus, we were able to scrape by.

What would be the main thing you propose to change?

  • To base our national operations in Montreal, where living costs are lower and there is a large (anglophone) talent pool and a well-established political culture that aligns with the Media Co-op's grassroots mandate.

 

  • To reduce the amount of staff hours going into the Dominion, while increasing the relevance and reach of the publication. To this end, we propose to split the Dominion into two entities: a monthly feature article delivered to Media Co-op members, and 3-4 special issues per year produced by independent teams operating under separate project budgets.

  • A renewed emphasis on training

Why should members vote for this option?

When launched in 2009 the vision for the current model was that our locally-based editors would spend an equal amount of time editing and producing issues of the Dominion, which would appear every two months, and then taking on fundraising and outreach tasks as well. A National Coordinator and Membership Coordinator would support them in these tasks.

Unfortunately, the way things actually worked falls well short of the ideal version. Budget and the sheer amount of time it takes to produce the Dominion left the editorial staff with almost no time for fundraising and outreach activities. The combination of editing and fundraising duties in editor positions was also a source of ongoing tension and stress. As such, our activities in these areas were curtailed or fell on the shoulders of fewer staff members. Our extreme staff turnover has made it clear that we pay too little to retain staff, and perpetual budget shortfalls relative to salaries mean that the organization is under constant fundraising pressure, which has taken a toll on morale.

We are also at the end of our first decade. Our elders in the co-op movement tell us that the ten-year mark is when the enthusiasm and volunteerism of the co-op’s founders gives way to more pragmatic considerations. We are mainly proving the rule in that respect.

Based on these observations and the results of the reader and member survey, a committee convened to assess these issues quickly realized that in order to keep our first generation involved (albeit far less intensively) while revitalizing the co-op through attracting new volunteers, we need a new plan and new structure.

Our members and readers have also spoken. Some highlights of their priorities, as expressed in response to the member and reader survey.

 

The top three “most important things the Media Co-op does”:

 

  • 77%  On the ground coverage of movements (e.g. Elsipogtog)

  • 63%  Training for independent journalists

  • 35%  Regular issues of the Dominion

 

(Even among subscribers, only 45% marked “regular issues of the Dominion as one of their top three priorities.)

 

And this is how they view their support for the co-op:

 

  • 57%  Support for journalists

  • 47%  Support for a political project

  • 47%  Support for media infrastructure

  • 43%  Support for a public service

  • 26%  A subscription to a news magazine

 

The top three types of coverage that members liked and wanted more of were:

 

  • breaking news (54% love, 33% want more)

  • in-depth features (68% love, 31% want more)

  • analysis (42% love, 26% want more)

 

And here are the top three ways members want to be more involved:

 

  • 23%  Writing

  • 23%  Learning

  • 18%  Editing

We can also look to the participatory budgets of 2013 and 2010 for the membership’s priorities. In each case, paying staff topped the list, and in each case, that was the one priority that we didn’t respond to, because our budgets were too tight to contemplate a pay raise.

If we are to try and match our members’ expectations, some difficult choices are in order.

 

The details:

How would your proposal change the Co-op in terms of how it operates now?

There would be big changes in terms of the Dominion:

The Dominion (and beyond…)

Online Edition:

Features will be in-depth, original looks at important topics. For the first month after their release, features will available to subscribers only. The first four paragraphs will be publicly viewable, after which a pitch to subscribe will appear for non-members. The release of each feature will be an opportunity to trumpet the co-op’s original content and recruit subscribers and sustainers.

The basic idea is to have a baseline of exclusive content that makes being a subscriber worthwhile, while the special issues will not necessarily be a consistent presence (contingent as they are on member initiative, energy, and readily available funding.)

The monthly online feature article (and any other paid online work) will be chosen and edited by the editorial committee. In this regard, the committee’s mandate will be (roughly) to publish high-quality grassroots journalism that reflects the breadth of the network and draws on the talent within it.

Beyond the Dominion:

The Dominion is only one of the possibilities for projects that could make use of the seed money/crowdfunding/distribution model. Other possibilities include:

  • Concentrated on the ground coverage

  • Films

  • Books

  • Art

These pieces would be distributed, like the magazine is now, to our sustainers and subscribers. The editorial committee will establish guidelines as to how often we would do this and what standards would apply to non-Dominion proposals.

In the short-term, it is obvious that the current stable of Media Co-op volunteers will drive the first two issues; however, by the third issue if we have done our work correctly, individuals will take on the responsibility of identifying an issue(s) and taking ownership over the process.

 

The Montreal Office and Entry-level Volunteer Positions

 

Ideally, the outreach coordinator and coordinating editor (at least) would work out of the same office. The office would become a hub of activity centred on short volunteer terms (~4 months, 5hrs/week) focused on editorial, coordination/networking, member outreach and fundraising duties.

 

These volunteer positions would augment the capacity of the national office, and provide yet another point of entry for people to get involved in the co-op. The coordinator will, in tandem with volunteer positions, sign up experienced journalists and organizers to mentor each volunteer for a few hours a week.

 

While the national coordinator will be inevitably doing a lot of the training, the position is just as important as a sort of connective tissue and a stimulator of high-quality interaction. Lacking a large staff, the work of facilitating the sort of interpersonal relationships that are the precursor to effective work and interesting projects is possibly the most important role the coordinator can play.

 

Once this model is ironed out a bit more, the potential for facilitating national volunteers in other cities (using local mentors) can be considered.

 

Questions of Power

 

Hiring a national coordinator who works more hours than anyone else and will naturally be a point person for the entire organization could have the potential to concentrate a lot of power in one person. It also has logistical advantages. Because the coordinator will not be spending paid hours editing, their influence is concentrated at the level of education and development.

 

Creating a non-staff editorial committee with short terms:

●    lowers barriers to entry, opening up the co-op to more people

●    creates opportunities for diverse participation

●    spreads out editorial decision making power

 

But it also:

●    makes creating working relationships more difficult...

●    ...and more necessary

●    places more importance on orientation and socialization

 

The coordinator position, ideally, would amplify the benefits of the first set, while taking the edge off of the difficulties by doing things like doing orientations for new members by skype, setting up regular “meet the media co-op” meeting to provide opportunities for people to meet “one on one” via videoconferencing, and maintaining orientation and training materials.

 

It’s ultimately an institutional culture that embraces diversity, democracy and empowerment that will balance decisionmaking volunteers with the more entrenched staff. (The possibility of term limits for staff is also worth considering, but is not part of this proposal.)

 

 

What kind of things that we're funding or pouring energy in do you think should be redirected?

Some of the priorities that we are ill-equipped to address on the national level with the current structure:

 

  • Staff retention

  • On the ground movement coverage

  • Training of a new generation of grassroots journalists

  • Improving our skills

  • Projects that reach new audiences

  • Projects that bring in and cultivate new talent

  • Adherence to a strategic funding strategy

  • Ensuring consistent communication between local and national operations

 

To address these problems, we need to:

 

  • Ensure staff are better-paid

  • Free up capacity to become responsive

  • Spend more money on content

  • Create lots of new activity

  • Expand our base of support

  • Free up resources (labor and financial) to develop and execute a sound funding strategy over 2-3 years

 

Within the following constraints:

 

  • Minimal increase to overall spending

  • Maintain our existing base of support as much as possible

Redirected into what?

A renewed emphasis on training and cultivating new grassroots journalists, through a proliferation of volunteer positions, training events, and opportunities for involvement, centred around the new Montreal office. We will also be looking to diversify our offerings, branching out annually into a different medium: film, photography, studio and digital art.

How many issues should we have if any?

Print Edition (special issues):

To both revitalize the Dominion, and ensure we stay within our means, print issues of the Dominion will be taken out of the core budget and the core staff. Instead, the national office will periodically accept proposals for Dominion issues from locals, existing collectives, and ad hoc teams. Winning proposals will be decided by the a staff and editorial committee in consultation with the membership.

Teams that submit a successful proposal will get:

  • Seed funding ($500-1000) to begin work

  • Training and support from staff and the Media Co-op alumni network

  • Support for editorial and fundraising, and advertising sales from the staff

  • Access to use the Media Co-op network for a crowdfunding campaign

  • Logistical support from the network for launch events across the country

In some cases, the process will be a call for proposals. But the editorial committee may also decide to recruit a team to tackle a particular topic. The structure and composition of each team can vary; there will be some basic stylistic and visual constraints to what constitutes a Dominion issue.

The Board, in concert with staff and other key players will develop a rolling year-long production schedule. Each team will be responsible for producing a budget and revenue to cover the costs of the issue. A standard (but not yet determined) revenue-sharing formula will be applied to any profits.

What kind of split in terms of local vs. national revenues?

This is how we would budget on a monthly basis:

Core budget costs: $6,338

Labour Costs (monthly): $3,954

Network Coordinator (25 hours @ $15): $1,739

Membership and Outreach (15 hours @ $15): $1,043

Bookkeeper (7.5 hours @ $15): $522

Writers and editors: $450

Local Liasons: $150 (we will ask locals to match this with $50/month for their liason)

Local transfers (monthly): $1,439

Supplies, office and services (monthly): $945

Core budget revenues (monthly): $5,436

Subscription revenues (avg): $540.17

Sustainer revenues: $4,313

Advertising (avg): $583

How many staff should the co-op have?  Should they be concentrated centrally or spread out amongst the locals? Split evenly among all?

The main staff under this proposal will be paid a minimum of $15/hour, and consist of:

  • A Network Coordinator (25 hours/week)
  • A Bookkeeper/Administrator (5-10 hours/week)
  • A Membership and Outreach Coordinator (15 hours/week)

 

In addition to the staff, some other positions would be created:

 

Rotating Editorial Committee (stipend per article)

In place of the current staff-driven editorial process, a volunteer editorial committee will be placed in charge of editorial policy on the national site, selection and editing of articles for the online edition of the Dominion. Editorial committee members will be appointed by a board committee in consultation with locals and active editor members, and will take part in the committee for six-month terms (renewable). The editorial committee will draw from established collaborators throughout the network.

Members of this committee will receive a per-article honorarium for editing work. To ensure vitality, committee six-month terms will be renewable, with a limit of four consecutive terms - i.e. a member who hits the two year limit can return after a six month break. In the event of a serious conflict, the Board shall form a resolution committee on an ad-hoc basis to resolve the issue.

Local Liaisons (Annual Honorarium to be determined annually at AGM in concert with locals)

Four honorarium positions will be created for local liaisons. The liaisons will meet to share information between locals, keep the national office informed about local initiatives, represent the local’s interests to the national office, and help to coordinate logistical support for national projects.

In your proposal who will be responsible for some of the more important duties: membership entry, summer grant oversight, finances and bills, board support, social media, web-duties, etc.

This is what the main positions will undertake:

A Network Coordinator (25 hours/week), who will

 

• Ensure the basic functioning of the network

• Train and supervise volunteers

• Oversee bookkeeping and other administrative tasks

• Support the board, editorial committee and other non-staff bodies

• Train and support special projects

• Report to the board's management committee

 

A Bookkeeper/Administrator (5-10 hours/week), who will

 

• Bottomline oversight of the Media Co-op's budget

• Provide reports to the board-staff finance committee

• Report to the board's management committee

 

A Membership and Outreach Coordinator (15 hours/week), who will

 

• Communicate with members

• Coordinate fundraising and ad sales

• Enact the Media Co-op's membership development strategy

 

Join the media co-op today
Things the Media Co-op does: Support
Things the Media Co-op does: Report
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Things the Media Co-op does: Educate
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Things the Media Co-op does: Cooperate
Things the Media Co-op does: Build
Things the Media Co-op does: Amplify

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