A handful of newspapers such as the Daily Herald Media Group in Chicago, Dubuque Telegraph and Cedar Rapids Gazette remain majority-owned by ESOPs. Defector Media, made up of former Gawker staff, became employee-owned in 2020. Several media production companies such as Meerkat Media, Bonfire Media Co-op and Clickhole are also worker-owned.
Yet multi-stakeholder cooperative models — also known as solidarity co-ops — are becoming increasingly popular. People Power Solar Cooperative, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative and Ampled are examples of recently organized multi-stakeholder co-ops. In a 2011 report, Margaret Lund writes that solidarity co-ops emerge where it’s necessary for potentially antagonistic classes to work together to meet a common goal. Take the example of a local newspaper, where the economic motives of employees, freelancers, advertisers and readers may not appear aligned. Yet a shared commitment to the paper’s services and its financial success could serve as the basis for blended ownership. Moreover, a class of reader-owners can reflect the reciprocal relationship between newsrooms and communities, which is more dynamic than that of vendor and customer. This model doesn’t necessarily diminish workers’ power, either: full-time employees at Means TV are the only class that can sit on the board of directors. In Dominion Media Co-op, managing editors control the majority of board seats and have an outsized role in reaching quorum for voting.
Can these hybrid co-ops — especially those with strong worker-owner classes — participate in government funded opportunities for worker cooperatives? Many programs and policies do not precisely define worker cooperatives, instead leaning on broad language about worker ownership and democratic governance: for example, the Worker-Owned Recovery California (WORC) policy agenda defines worker cooperatives as “businesses owned and controlled by the worker-owners, who share in profits and elect and serve on the Board of Directors."