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Tone Madison is converting to a worker-owned cooperative

We’ve received a business-development grant from the Madison Cooperative Development Coalition.

The header image from Scott Gordon shows the Madison Cooperative Development Coalition logo above the Tone Madison logo on a light blue background.

Tone Madison is reorganizing as a worker-owned cooperative. Over the next year, we will be digging into the specifics of what that looks like. At the heart of this change is our commitment to providing better and more stable opportunities for journalists in Madison, and recruiting a staff and freelance pool that is more representative of our community.

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This will also help us build on the tremendous opportunities our current fall fundraising campaign presents. By the way, that campaign is still very much ongoing, and still needs your support!

Thanks to a $10,000 start-up grant from Madison Cooperative Development Coalition (MCDC), we’ll be able to give this transition the time and attention it needs. These grant funds will help us: 

  • Cover some of the behind-the-scenes costs of legal fees and accounting services to officially incorporate as a cooperative.

  • Upgrade our website (see ya, Squarespace!) with a focus on online accessibility both for journalists and for readers. 

  • And most importantly, this grant will help pay for internal training: equity and diversity training, worker-cooperative training and media-specific training.

Why a cooperative? Why now? 

Since 2014, Tone Madison has been committed to providing the most supportive environment possible for our journalists. The conventional wisdom in the media business is that on-the-ground journalists don’t understand the bigger picture of audience and revenue. We reject this. Journalism is better—for readers, and for journalists—when journalists themselves have the power (and responsibility) to make editorial and business decisions, and build relationships directly with an audience.

Tone Madison is a place where journalists call the shots without interference from outside interests. Converting to a worker-owned cooperative will shift more power into the hands of journalists at a time when living wage media jobs are sparse, smaller media companies are struggling to make ends meet, and larger media chains undermine their own journalists with cost-cutting efficiencies and click-bait strategies.

These industry trends impact journalists, and shape the stories they are able to tell. Media as a whole has a well-documented diversity problem, and Madison in particular has a way of driving away young, talented journalists.

We need to provide opportunities for journalists to earn decent compensation, develop their craft, and have real power over their working conditions. Reorganizing as a worker cooperative does not solve all the daunting problems facing journalism, but it does give journalists the chance to attack these problems using what they know.

The good news? We know journalists and readers can work together to create something better. We know because we’ve seen it. During the pandemic, many publications collapsed because they relied on ad dollars that suddenly dried up. At Tone Madison, though, we saw readers step up their support through direct donations. Because of this support, we were able to provide groundlevel perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion of anti-racist protest, while also finding creative ways to keep covering the local arts community despite the lack of live events. This all contributed to the broader civic goals of journalism: holding the powerful accountable, and helping people feel more connected to their communities.

The grant that Tone Madison received is part of Madison Cooperative Development Coalition‘s work to support worker cooperatives as they begin and grow. MCDC is the City of Madison’s funded initiative to form worker cooperatives that address income inequality and racial disparities by creating living-wage and sustainable jobs. They are a collaborative of community-based organizations, business resource specialists, and cooperative developers.

“We are excited to support Tone’s conversion to a worker-owned cooperative and to help them build a democratically run media outlet that supports Tone’s current and future writers as they provide an outstanding service to our local community,” said MCDC Cooperative Development Specialist Charity Schmidt. 

As we partner on this transition over the next year, we will keep you updated along the way.

We can’t do this without your support. 

The direct support of our readers is still what keeps us going, and we will still depend on that support going forward. The MCDC grant funds a few specific needs, and is not used to pay for staff or freelance compensation. That’s why we’re so excited about this fall’s fundraising campaign. This week, we’ll share a little bit more about all that reader support makes possible.

Thank you for being such a great source of support for independent media.

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Scott Gordon, publisher

Oona Mackesey-Green, managing editor


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