Sat 18 Jan 2020 6:07PM

Launching A New, Co-op Owned Online Publication "Mutual Interests"

LS Leo Sammallahti Public Seen by 71

Mutual Interests - A New Online Publication

The reception to a recently launched Wikipedia Coop Fund positively surprised me - after publishing only one article about it and sharing it half a dozen places, we reached 10 regular donors.

I've got to know a brilliant young writer @Iwan Doherty whose articles (1,2) about coops have gained impressive reach in the social media. So an idea to start a new, coop owned online publication popped to my mind.

Response to a short tweet about this idea was a positive surprise - messages flew in from the former BBC newsnight editor Paul Mason, National Research and Policy Officer at GMB Neil Foster, a person representing a group of Japanese trade unionists who are themselves in a process of starting a co-op owned publication, a former Mozilla employee, etc.

So here's some basic ideas behind the publication:

Balanced coverage of co-ops, unions and the state

  • Success stories and future ideas on how co-ops and unions, not just statecraft can be utilised as tools.

  • Energising elections in existing economic democracy, from trade- and credit unions to local councils and large cooperatives.

  • When covering state, focusing especially in local councils in swing constituencies.

  • Let's change the thinking from "how can the state fix this problem" to "how can unions/coops/state fix this problem".

Consensus, not controversy seeking.

  • Shifting from the nationalisation vs privatisation paradigm into mutualisation consensus.

  • Bringing forward other economic ideas that appeal also to both left and non-left leaning people:

    • Anti-trust

    • Free and open source software

    • Land value tax

    • Employee ownership 

Policy advocacy, no personal attacks.

  • Best place to read about manifestos of ongoing elections in different countries.

  • Best place for coverage of co-op and union elections.

  • Proposing ideas for membership motions to be voted on in co-ops and unions, not just policies in party elections, such as having a membership motion for Nationwide and Co-op to invest 1% of their pre-tax profits to help new co-op startups.

Cooperative, not a corporation.

  • Governance (Loomio)

    • 50% of the board is elected by writers who have published at least 4 articles/ year.

    • 50% of the board is elected by subscribers who pay 3£/month or 30£/year. Members of unions or co-ops pay 2£/month or 20£/year.

  • Finance (Open Collective)

    • 50% of the monthly revenue is distributed equally to all writers who have published an article that month.

    • 50% of the money is distributed through membership vote to writers who have published in the last month.

Participatory, not passive

  • Readers take part in polls

    • Best policies from party manifestos of different parties in different countries

    • Best Resonate song of the month/year

  • Readers request questions and guests for interviews

  • Offers practical advice for action:

    • Co-ops and unions to join

    • Informs about upcoming union elections, coop AGMs, etc.

    • Membership petitions in to sign for those who are already members

    • Informing about co-op crowdfunding and open source projects Webinars and online courses

24 Month Plan

  • First Two Month Goal

    • Launch on week 2 of February:

    • Publish an article describing the Mutual Interests Coop

    • Interview with Sandeep Vaheesan on anti-trust

    • Interview with Cardiff taxi worker co-op and union collaboration

    • Publish one new article by Iwan Doherty

    • Publish one new article by me

    • Add around 15 old articles by Iwan & me about unions, co-ops and Labour party

    • Interview with Nathan Schneider

    • Publish one article by a guest author

    • Interview with cleaners co-operative in Belfast

  • 6 Month Goals

    • Reach production of 11 articles a month

    • Interview with co-op, union and party person of the month

    • An article from Iwan and Leo once a month

    • Two articles from other regular writers

    • Resonate song of the month - a regular article retweeted by Resonate

    • Coop Fact Of The Week vote

  • 12 Month Goals

    • Reach production of 5 articles a week

    • Regular new reader polls

    • Election Watch - readers vote on policies on party manifestos of ongoing elections across the world

    • Expansion to broader interests than politics and society

      • Sports, fan-owned sports teams news

      • Culture

        • Stocksy photo- and Resonate music coop news.

      • Tech

        • Open source co-op project of the month

      • Personal finance tips and business news.

        • Informing about opportunities for mutual self-help, such as job opportunities or goods and services offered by co-operatives.

      • Business news from the co-op sector

  • 24 Month Goals

    • Reach a production of 2 articles a day

    • Monthly piece by an elected union, co-op and co-op party representative.

    • Have a monthly post on:

      • Anti-trust

      • Georgism

      • Employee ownership

      • Open source software

    • Regular monthly readers polls:

      • Policy of the month

      • Randomised trial of the month

      • Platform co-operative of the month

      • Resonate song of the month

      • Co-op crowdfunding campaign of the month

      • Co-op fact of the month

      • Co-op Open Source Project of the month

      • Trade union of the month

    • Propose an annual motion voted on by the members of Nationwide

    • Have a Mutual Interests member as the reader elected member of the board of directors of Co-operative News

If you are interested in writing to the publication, or know someone who could be, let me know. Also, if you know organisations that might be interested in getting involved, let me know.

Any other thoughts or ideas also more than welcome.


Jeff Regino Sun 19 Jan 2020 2:17AM

Interesting goals and plans! I'd definitely get involved in the near future, through PlatformX (advertisement) and/or writing, if eligible.


Oli SB Sun 19 Jan 2020 10:01AM

Very interesting Leo

a few questions:

Why start something new when Co-op News https://www.thenews.coop/uk/ already do a great job - and could probably benefit from further support?

What is the business model you are proposing - subscription only? Can anonymous people view articles? Would you be looking to sell / accept advertising? I presume this is only online, right?

Having worked in media (at Positive News and for various other magazines and online news sites) I know how hard it can be to sustain a good quality publication... don't want to put you off at all, just to ensure you have thought about, and planned for, the volume of work which will be required.

All power to you!


Leo Sammallahti Sun 19 Jan 2020 11:20AM

Good points.

Coop News is very much focused only on coops, whereas the focus here would be broader (unions, anti-trust, open-source, georgism, labour party) and does a great job on that. Iwan has tried to pitch his articles about coops to them but they have not been interested. In 24 months part I do mention "Have a Mutual Interests member as the reader elected member of the board of directors of Co-operative News" so we would like to take part in the board elections of Coop News.

The goals are pretty modest - 12 paying subscribers in the first 6 months. The plan is it would be more of a hobby than a job. It would be fully online, and would accept advertisement. Everyone could read the articles, they could choose to become regular donors if they want to, bit like people donating to the Patreon accounts of content creators they like.

I started the Wikipedia Coop Fund and had 9 people join as paying members it as a result of one article shared in half a dozen places. With Mutual Interests, there would be regular flow of articles shared by people with much greater social media reach than I have. This could be worth trying.


Leo Sammallahti Sun 19 Jan 2020 11:25AM

Maybe we can sell advertisement on the Open Credit network ;). Would love to pick your brain regarding your experience on Positive News some time when you're not too busy!


Jonathan Bean Sun 19 Jan 2020 10:03AM

Looks like a great plan. What do you think about cooperating with any existing cooperative news societies such as https://www.thenews.coop/about/


Leo Sammallahti Sun 19 Jan 2020 11:22AM

Totally. Coop News is a great publication but with a more narrow focus only on coops, whereas Mutual Interests would focus also on unions, anti-trust, open source, georgism, etc.

In the 24 Month Goal part I mention "Have a Mutual Interests member as the reader elected member of the board of directors of Co-operative News".


Sion Whellens (Principle Six/Calverts) Sun 19 Jan 2020 10:49AM

Also crosses over with Stir to Action, although they don’t publish inline


Nathan Brown (Co-op Culture) Thu 23 Jan 2020 1:10PM

They do make their back catalogue content available online to subscribers though


Leo Sammallahti Thu 23 Jan 2020 6:14PM

Stir To Action is a great publication with lot of good content. The model of pay-to-read might be economically a smarter approach than allowing everyone to read and voluntarily paying for a membership. But allowing everyone to read is better if you want to reach a lot of new people. Neither model is better or worse - they both have strenghts and weaknesses.


Simon Carter Sun 19 Jan 2020 12:41PM

All sounds to me like preaching to the choir again, much like Coop News. The sector remains far too introspective. There is a need for something no doubt, but that something needs to move the co-op message into the mainstream.


Leo Sammallahti Sun 19 Jan 2020 12:51PM

Why does it sound like preaching to the choir? Perhaps I failed to articulate it, but my plan was to include totally nonpolitical content and content that appeals and interests across the political aisle.

I mention:

"Bringing forward other economic ideas that appeal also to both left and non-left leaning people:

  • Anti-trust

  • Free and open source software

  • Land value tax

  • Employee ownership 

If you look at anti-trust for example, it's been praised by folks like Tucker Carlson - the most popular TV show host in Fox News! Land value tax has a whole subculture of libertarian georgists or geolibetarians, that perhaps represent the majority of the most passionate advocates of land value tax. Employee ownership is in the Republican party platform and was praised by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, etc.

There would also be totally non-political content - such as sports news focusing on fan-owned sports clubs.

What is it that should be included if it was not preaching to the choir?


Simon Carter Sun 19 Jan 2020 12:58PM

Maybe I was premature, or failed to consider more thoroughly your proposal, in which case I apologies. To reiterate, there is definitely a need, & a 'gap in the market' not addressed by what exists. If your proposal addresses it then that's 'good news'.


Leo Sammallahti Sun 19 Jan 2020 5:00PM

Just had a call with an economist who has worked as an accountant for decades for big businesses, he will be writing from a perspective of an "insider" critical of the current system. Also, a blogger by the name of blockchain socialist also wants to get involved.


Oli SB Sun 19 Jan 2020 8:50PM

I think it might be useful to define a one sentence Purpose for this new site... (forgive me if you have and I missed it).


Leo Sammallahti Sun 19 Jan 2020 9:20PM

"Helping revitalise a counter-economy of mutual self-help."

Be honest, is that gibberish to you?


Simon Carter Mon 20 Jan 2020 9:21AM

Not to the initiated. Therein lies your problem. Most people just aren't listening.


Oli SB Tue 21 Jan 2020 9:34AM

i don't think its gibberish - but I wonder if it could be more specific and explicit - how will you help? what do you define as counter-economy? and mutual self-help? I would try to phrase it as: The purpose of XXXX org is to YYY by doing ZZZ. Then if you feel like making it really tangible I would add another sentence: We do this by (doing) AAA and BBB and CCC and aim to achieve DDD (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals by doing EEE within FFF (timeframe).

I hope you can see what I am getting at - I think you already know what you want to do and how - but communicating it precisely and concisely will make it easier for others to understand what you are doing - and make it easier for you to check (as you inevitably get dragged off mission by everything around you!) that you are still fulfilling your original purpose.

I also hope that by doing this you will be forced to think about your audience more (who they are, their demographics etc) - and if this plan is the best plan to achieve your wider objective. I.e. if the goal is an economy of mutual self help, what is the most effective way to achieve that?


Leo Sammallahti Wed 22 Jan 2020 12:41PM

Had a call with a fellow who is running a Facebook page called BritanForAll, with 185k followers. He has set up a company to run the page but would be happy to convert the company into a coop and merge it with Mutual Interests, gonna be talking with him on Friday for more details.


Graham Thu 23 Jan 2020 10:40AM

I think this has legs. I'd like to get thoughts on how such a publication/platform could work also as a content wholesaler/syndicator, working with local news providers. Simon's point highlights the idea of spheres of influence/engagement. If this project simply ends up serving content to readers who are already in the bubble then it fails. It has to reach beyond that, and from Leo's outline I think it will do that in so far as it can potentially reach across various bubbles and cross-pollinate. My own experience suggests, for example, people in the Labour Party have very little knowledge of the co-operative model, likewise with trade unionists, and often vice versa is also true.

For my own part, I think there is a potentially big opportunity at the local level. If my locality is anything to go by, the quality of local news has fallen away pretty sharply over the last few years, as the traditional model has failed to to respond effectively to the rise of social media and the loss of advertising revenue as that has moved online. What's left can hardly be said to serve the needs of the local community, as it is driven to ever more sensationalist headlines as clickbait to generate the ad revenue it needs to remain viable in the eyes of its corporate owners, who care only about profit margins. I think that there is scope to build a reader-owned and supported business model around a citizen journalism approach, delivering real useful news. In terms of promoting a pro-cooperative, commons-oriented, open source agenda, syndicating content from the central hub, and supporting the development of local hubs/access points adds a lot of value for me and builds a synergistic model. Very happy to talk more about this. Apologies if I digress.


Leo Sammallahti Thu 23 Jan 2020 4:15PM

Yes, we would love to cover especially success stories of things that local councils have done that could be replicated. We have few Labour councillors (including one from Preston!) who have said they can contribute articles :).


Oli SB Thu 23 Jan 2020 4:23PM

I like this idea - it reminds me of the https://indymedia.org/ model - which I see is now being rebuilt


Leo Sammallahti Thu 23 Jan 2020 4:12PM

Asked SEWA Twitter account whether some of their people would be interested in contributing. Got this response "Absolutely! We have been contributing to NCUI’s The Cooperator and would love to contribute further to the co-op movement!".