Employee-Owned Businesses Ignored by Mainstream Media
By Gar Alperovitz and Keane Bhatt / alternet.org

A bold new threat to the economic status quo brings on a press blackout.

Social pain, anger at ecological degradation and the inability of traditional politics to address deep economic failings has fueled an extraordinary amount of practical on-the-ground institutional experimentation and innovation by activists, economists and socially minded business leaders in communities around the country.

A vast democratized "new economy" is slowly emerging throughout the United States. The general public, however, knows almost nothing about it because the American press simply does not cover the developing institutions and strategies.

For instance, a sample assessment of coverage between January and November of 2012 by the most widely circulated newspaper in the United States, the Wall Street Journal, found ten times more references to caviar than to employee-owned firms, a growing sector of the economy that involves more than $800 billion in assets and 10 million employee-owners—around three million more individuals than are members of unions in the private sector.

Worker ownership—the most common form of which involves ESOPs, or Employee Stock Ownership Plans—was mentioned in a mere five articles. By contrast, over 60 articles referred to equestrian activities like horse racing, and golf clubs appeared in 132 pieces over the same period.


Although 2012 was designated by the United Nations as the International Year of the Cooperative—an institution that now has more than one billion members worldwide—the Journal’s coverage was similarly thin. More than 120 million Americans are members of co-operatives and cooperative credit unions, 30 million more people than are owners of mutual funds. The Journal, however, devoted some 700 articles to mutual funds between January and October and only 183 to cooperatives. Of these the majority were concerned with high-end New York real estate, with headlines like “Pricey Co-ops Find Buyers”

The vast number of cooperative businesses on Main Streets across the country were discussed in just 70 articles and a mere 14 gave co-op businesses more than passing mention. Together, the articles only narrowly outnumbered the 13 Journal pieces that mentioned the Dom Perignon brand of champagne over the same time frame, and were eclipsed by the 40 Journal entries that refer to the French delicacy foie gras.


Another democratized economic institution is the not-for-profit Community Development Corporation (CDC), roughly 4,500 of which operate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Such neighborhood corporations create tens of thousands of units of affordable housing and millions of square feet of commercial and industrial space a year. The Journal ran no articles mentioning CDCs in 2012 and only 43 over the past 28 years—less than two a year. Meanwhile, the word château appeared in 30 times as many articles, and luxury apartments received 300 times as much coverage over the same period.


Not surprisingly, the growing “new economy movement” championing democratization of the economy has itself received even less coverage, despite growing citizen involvement on many levels. Over the past year, major national, state and other conferences focusing on worker-owned companies, cooperatives, public banking, nonprofit and public land trusts, and neighborhood corporations were oversubscribed, reflecting the growing interest in these forms. The Journal, however, gave scant coverage to the movement.

Thousands of other creative projects—from green businesses to new forms of combined community-worker efforts—are also underway across the country but receive little coverage. A number are self-consciously understood as attempts to develop working prototypes in state and local “laboratories of democracy” that may be applied at regional and national scale when the right political moment occurs. In Cleveland, Ohio, for instance, a complex of sophisticated worker-owned firms has been developing in desperately poor, predominantly black neighborhoods. The model is partially structured along lines of the Mondragón Corporation, a vibrant network of worker-owned cooperatives in northern Spain with more than 80,000 members and billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Since 2010 legislation to set up public banks along the lines of the long-established Bank of North Dakota has been proposed in twenty states. Several cities—including Los Angeles and Kansas City—have passed “responsible banking” ordinances that require banks to reveal their impact on the community and/or require city officials to do business only with banks that are responsive to community needs. But municipally led responsible banking initiatives appear to have received no attention in the Journal, whereas the newspaper published seven articles this year discussing President Obama’s birth certificate.


The limited nature of the coverage can also be seen in particular cases. Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) is a highly successful consumer co-op with $1.8 billion in sales for 2011, allowing it to share $165 million of its profits with its 4.7 million active members and 11,000 employees. Organic Valley, a Wisconsin-based cooperative dairy, generated more than $700 million in revenue for nearly 1,700 farmer-owners. From January through October 2012, the Journal referred (briefly) to REI in just three articles; Organic Valley rated just one mention. In combination, REI and Organic Valley appear in the Journal only as often as the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, a breed of dog that turned up in four entries in the Journal’s pages this year.


Further perspective on the coverage is offered in the way in which “hot topics” are presented, and others of greater economic significance played down. Co-ops in the U.S. generate over $500 billion in annual revenues. The global market for smartphones is estimated by Bloomberg Industries at $219 billion—less than half as large. Furthermore, there are 20 million more co-op members than smartphone users in the United States. The Journal, however, published over 1,000 print articles that included the terms “smartphone” or “smartphones” from January through October this year—more than five articles for each piece mentioning co-ops (many of which, as noted, were about upscale Manhattan apartments.)

The print coverage of the Journal was analyzed by the Democracy Collaborative of the University of Maryland through the online database ProQuest. Although the assessment focused on the Journal, the nation’s preeminent source of news for economic and business affairs, a preliminary review suggests that other national media outlets devote a similarly miniscule proportion of space to the exploding “new economy” sector. This highlights the need for greater media exposure regarding important developments toward a more democratic, sustainable and community-based economy.

4.7 · 5
What's Next
Load Comments
Trending Today
'Boys Send Me Rape Threats, So I Tell Their Moms': Meet the Woman Fighting Online Harassment
Kali Holloway · 6,396 views today · Rape threats are an all-too-common reality for women online. Just as often, the anonymity of the Internet makes it nearly impossible to strike back at trolls. What’s more, as...
John Pilger: "There Is No War On Terror... There Is A War OF Terror."
3 min · 5,218 views today · John Pilger speaks frankly about the "War on Terror," saying that no such thing exists. "There is a war OF terror," he says, and it is primarily state-sponsored terror, and...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into A Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 5,008 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How the Elite Deal With Sparks of Revolt
Bill Blunden · 4,775 views today · “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half” —Jay Gould Metanoia Films has released a new documentary, Plutocracy: Divide et Impera (Divide and Rule)...
Rebel Geeks - Steal From the Capitalists (2015)
25 min · 4,040 views today · Evan "Rabble" Henshaw-Plath is a coder, activist, anarchist, and a hacker. He is also one of the original developers of Twitter. Henshaw-Plath believes that, as a tech...
We Created Islamic Extremism: Those Blaming Islam for ISIS Would Have Supported Osama Bin Laden in the '80s
Ben Norton · 3,634 views today · Jingoists conveniently forget the West's Cold War strategy was to arm the Islamic extremists that became al-Qaida
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,581 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Image Hollywood Created of Africa
3 min · 3,112 views today · After viewing Mama Hope's video, "Alex Presents Commando," Gabriel, Benard, Brian and Derrik (the Kenyan men in this video) told us they wanted to make one that pokes fun at...
A Brief History of European Colonization in Africa
4 min · 3,087 views today · This clip, narrated by Kevin Spacey, comes from the feature documentary Uganda Rising. It shows how Africa was carved up by European colonial forces, using divide and rule...
Native American Responses to Thanksgiving
2 min · 2,660 views today · We invited Native Americans to respond to the word "Thanksgiving." These are their responses.
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 1,960 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Stunning Images of Deep Sea Creatures off the Coast of Puerto Rico Reveal Hidden World
2 min · 1,885 views today · Some sea creatures are so new to us, they don't even have names.
Man Vs Earth
5 min · 1,832 views today · Who Do You Think Will Win? Editor's note: We're big fans of Prince Ea's videos, and there's a lot of great stuff in this film, but sadly the ask at the end lets it down. We...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 1,817 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
Monsanto: The Poison Expert That Wants to Feed Us
5 min · 1,762 views today · Is the ‘old’ Monsanto, the one responsible for producing Agent Orange, PCB’s and DDT and a terrible record at covering up and denying the tragedies that have resulted from...
Endless Economic Growth is Fundamentally Unsustainable
George Monbiot · 1,578 views today · The belief that economic growth can be detached from destruction appears to be based on a simple accounting mistake.
Plutocracy: Political Repression In The U.S.A. (2015)
109 min · 1,532 views today · Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history through the lens of class. A multi-part series by filmmaker Scott Noble, Part I focuses on...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 1,523 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
7 Evocative Minutes from Baraka Remind Us That Inequality Must Be Challenged
7 min · 1,378 views today · This sequence comes from the feature documentary Baraka.
The Covert Origins of ISIS
21 min · 1,126 views today · Evidence exposing who put ISIS in power, and how it was done. Sources and full transcript. StormCloudsGathering on Facebook.
Load More
Like us on Facebook?