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June 27, 2022, 10:05 a.m.
Business Models

The Tributary, covering Florida’s largest city, will be a worker-directed nonprofit

Staffers will take part in making collective decisions about the organization, from hiring and compensation to developing the budget, along with their journalistic work.

Earlier this month, founding editor of The Tributary in Jacksonville, Florida Andrew Pantazi tweeted that he’s hiring an investigative reporter to cover police accountability in the state’s most populous city.

By now, most hiring managers know better than to tweet a job listing without pay information, so what stood out was one of the benefits: “workplace democracy.”

Pantazi’s vision is that staffers will make collective decisions about the organization, from hiring and compensation to developing the budget, along with their journalistic work.

“I keep joking to my friends that I call this a workplace democracy but right now it’s really an autocracy because it’s just me,” he said. “Once we get to hire people, that’s when we get more of the the challenges to confront. It is a lot simpler to have a top-down hierarchy where somebody tells you the way things are and you have no say in the process. Once you add in democracy, things get difficult and messier, but that’s inherently a good thing. It makes everything more worthwhile.”

Pantazi launched The Tributary in December 2020 after working as an enterprise reporter for his hometown newspaper, The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, for nearly eight years. There, he saw the newsroom shrink and change ownership. That made it hard for the journalists to cover some issues that needed more in-depth attention. Eventually he helped lead staff unionization efforts.

Pantazi’s goal in founding The Tributary was not just to contribute more investigative reporting to Jacksonville’s news landscape, but to create a news nonprofit that’s directed by its workers. He brought his union organizing background to The Tributary, so while the organization is a nonprofit, he’s modeling it after worker-owned cooperatives like Defector and The Appeal, the latter of which is also a nonprofit.

The Tributary’s current structure is simple. There’s Pantazi, the founding editor who has done all of the editorial work so far, and a board of directors made up of Jacksonville community members. The site is funded via grants and donations, with more than 450 donations from “small dollar” donors who contributed $500 or less.

Pantazi has focused on deeply covering one issue at a time. For the past eight months, all of The Tributary’s reporting has focused on redistricting in Jacksonville, where civil rights groups have sued the city for racial gerrymandering and the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The lawsuit cited Pantazi’s previous reporting on racial gerrymandering, and he’s been working to reach new audiences. All Tributary stories are free to republish and Pantazi has republishing partnerships with two Black newspapers, a public radio station, and a TV station in town. He also worked with the local chapter of the League of Women Voters to develop brochures about redistricting, based off of his reporting. Then he handed them out to people who wanted to speak during the public comments portion of city council meetings.

“While they were waiting through all these zoning bills or whatever else, they could read,” Pantazi said. “It was actually delivering [information] directly to the people who most needed it in that moment, which are the people who, in this case, wanted to speak out against the redistricting plans. We provided them with some of what we’ve uncovered about racial gerrymandering.”

Once more people are hired, Pantazi envisions that they build out non-hierarchical leadership, an organization with few or no levels of management between the staff and the board. In addition to the workplace democracy policy, The Tributary also has an employee integrity policy, which states that, among other things, employees can turn down assignments that they believe will compromise their integrity, employees have the right to see all substantial edits on their stories before publication, employee bylines won’t be attached to stories without their consent, and corrections won’t be issued on stories before the employees involved are consulted.

“This is not Andrew Pantazi’s The Tributary. This is The Tributary, a worker-directed nonprofit so that everybody has equal say,” Pantazi said. “Whoever we hire, it means we have an added duty to not just find the best journalist we can find, but also to find someone who believes in that type of work, and someone who’s willing to do the extra work that comes with a flat hierarchy.”

Photo of Jacksonville, Fla. by Josh Hallett used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     June 27, 2022, 10:05 a.m.
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