Sat 2 May 2020 1:20AM

Roles at the organisation: How traditional/revolutionary is this going to be?

JE John Evans Public Seen by 18

So as far as I understand it, Mutual Interest is going to have an elected board that makes some decisions as well as having this loomio group to vote on stuff?

What do people think about creating some roles that are made in the image of current news organisations? I'm thinking of stuff like editor-in-chief, sub-editors, section heads, columnists, readers editor, etc. (I've been reading this great article by Jay Owens: http://www.jayowens.me/blog/the-press-and-the-public-mood )

My own position is that it's better to try things than not to try them, and enabling people to act without having to seek permission is usually good, so I'd be in favour of creating some tasks and giving people the autonomy to get on with them.

Obviously a democratic paper is not going to have the same structure as an oligarchic one, but we're doing a lot of the same activity, in that every article is part of creating a coherent world view.

At the moment we have I think 3 categories of people: founders, writers and members. A very good start but maybe it could be developed some more?


Leo Sammallahti Sat 2 May 2020 12:13PM

Thanks John for opening the discussion.

The only two stakeholder groups are writers and readers. The editorial team is also the board of directors, which currently is just me and @Iwan Doherty and are probably the closest thing to "founders". However we have no more rights than any other members and the board will be elected annually in AGMs where all members can stand and vote in. The date of the next AGM will be announced next month.

We have kept the governance system as simple as possible so far. As it grows our needs to have and resources to maintain a more sophisticated bureaucracy (which is not a bad word!) grow. One form of this gradual change will most likely be the growth of editorial team from 2 to more members.

We would like to provide members more ways to participate in addition to a monthly participatory budgeting poll and an annual vote in the AGM. What exactly those participation methods will mean is an excellent question.

Creating tasks anyone can pick is definitely one of those ways. The thread about organisations to contact is an example of this - anyone can comment about an organisation to contact or/and volunteer to contact them.

We would also like to think about how to organise collective and systematic way to share our content on social media.


mike_hales Sat 2 May 2020 12:36PM

My assumption would be, that Mutual Interest is some kind of reportage commons. The roles John identified are broadly 'curating' roles, in relation to the resources (pieces of reportage) put into the commons. As commons roles, I'd assume that the conduct of such roles would be as 'deputies' of the commons, and the qualities of the contributions to the commons, subject to the stewardly oversight of the commons: founders, writers and members together?

There's probably some kind of tension here, between the governance of the 'commons of news' on one hand (how is that to be exercised?) and some fairly routine assumptions about 'professional capabilities' and autonomy, that might be held by occupants of such roles, if they are members of 'the trade' (which is kind-of how I read John's suggestion).

I don't have a straighforward sense of how this kind of tension might be simply handled. I wouldn't want to see a situation where people working day-to-day on content were called up quarterly before 'a Board' and required to justify directions they had taken in creating content.

I wonder how much content-traffic there in fact is, such that might justify the creation of a formal hierarchy or division of labour. Is there really that much going on? And is there a possibility for coproduction of the orientation/genre/aesthetic of pieces, evolving over time, through long-term collaboration between authors and, say, a reader panel? Or perhaps, a very short-cycle review process involving such people, quite close in time to the dateline of the pieces?

You can see, probably, that I'm a bit spooked by a suggestion that this venture should just fall in line with the ways in which 'current news organisations' do things - as if those norms were necessarily admirable. "Enabling people to act without having to seek permission" might be good or it might go adrift. If writers (or super-writers who 'professionally' make judgements about what writers have written or may write) are given autonomy, on what basis might their actions subsequently be reviewed, and their autonomy modulated by the commons?

I feel this is much more problematic than John implies. And I'm not sure that I would trust a writer's approach, just because somebody said that they were 'professional'. That covers a multitude of sins in all fields of work (it's a whole tangle of modern-era cultural politics) and probably is at the heart of many tensions in journalistic ventures? I have to say, though, that working thro such things is likely to take way more time than I am going to be prepared to give. So maybe trade norms will de facto prevail. "How traditional/revolutionary is this going to be?" Indeed.


Sam Peters Sat 2 May 2020 2:44PM

I see Mutual Interest is a WordPress site. These come with default user roles that are somewhat in-line with "traditional newspapers". The "Contributor" user role is able to publish new articles subject to an admin or editor's approval. Perhaps a division of Editors (elected by all members) and Contributors (default new members) would be beneficial? Though I think it is a little early for this. Maybe when Leo & Iwan start getting overwhelmed with parsing article submissions.


mike_hales Sat 2 May 2020 5:11PM

That's interesting, about roles baked into Wordpress publishing. A single admin role - or even a whole bunch of individuals with admin privileges - isn't an adequate embodiment of the stewarding relationship that a commons has with the contributors to the commons?

This isn't really about the approval of any single contribution? It's about the demonstrable alignment of contributors with the commitments of the commons? If that can be taken for granted, then of course authors can "act without having to seek permission". And as long as there are commons-applied sanctions of some kind, when the interests of the commons are not served by the contributions that are being made.

Maybe we do need to understand more about how the relationship between journalists, editors and owners (or other stakeholders, on Boards) operates in 'current news organisations'? Is there good practice to refer to here? Or is it all a can of worms? Is there good practice in photojournalism, for example? How many journalism operations do we know of, where the contributors serve an actual community, rather than 'values' plus interventionist pressure 'from the top' by key actors? I ask in naive innocence - I'm way out of my depth in media operations.


Leo Sammallahti Mon 4 May 2020 4:19PM

Currently me and @Iwan Doherty are the editors - we did so just to get the ball rolling. The editorial team (which is also the board of directors), will be elected by all members (writers and reader-subscribers) annually. So you can vote us out but we really hope you don't :D! We will also have a poll on how many editorial team members we should have - currently it's just the two of us but might be better if we have more.


Iwan Doherty Mon 4 May 2020 7:09PM

I think we are putting the cart before the horse with this. The publication at present is very small and once it expands this is definitely a discussion worth having but only when the publication is at an appropriate size which we are some way off.

We do not need more editors as we are certainly not overwhelmed with content at present.

We should focus on expanding membership and readership before getting caught up with lots of additional roles


Sam Peters Mon 4 May 2020 7:28PM



Avi (Dr KBH) Wed 4 Nov 2020 2:32PM

My experience is that the editorial process is overwhelmed or at least not clear, transparent and timetabled - so perhaps this needs to be streamlined with a setout transparent process e.g. upload submissions to a folder as editable/commentable documents, perhaps that all members can see, set a turnaround time on it.


Avi (Dr KBH) Wed 4 Nov 2020 2:36PM

I woudd suggest either using something like Riseup pads https://pad.riseup.net/ where editors have access to making changes, but members can also see the document in process and offer side comments.


Avi (Dr KBH) Wed 4 Nov 2020 2:40PM

Otherwise there are loads of software that include submissons, feedback, copyediting as a built in timed process that can be used. Or there are wordpress plugins like CommentPress which when I used it about 4 years ago allowed staggered levels of editorship and transparency.