Editor’s Reflection

Coffee pot from a 1985 Coop Scoop.
Coffee pot from a 1985 Coop Scoop.

Dear Co-op Voice Readers,

Thank you for continuing to read the Voice. We’re glad to have you back, and we hope what you find in our pages helps you feel more informed and more connected as a Co-op member. When you have a moment, please give us a shout and let us know if that’s true for you.

This month, we have a change in editorship to announce; Donna Aitoro-Williams and Bob Jacobs are stepping down, and Mollie Lampi and Meg Breen have stepped up as Voice Editors. Donna and Bob promise to write articles now and then; we’re going to hold them to it! We have all so much appreciated their leadership and involvement. And we’re grateful to Mollie and Meg for joining the Voice editorial board, with their skills and their can-do spirit!

The April issue touches on some serious topics, such as the lack of sustainability of the world’s energy consumption, and the role of a free press in a democracy.

It’s come to our attention that a number of you remain confused about what’s been happening with your member-run newsletter. The Washington Post’s trenchant new motto states “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” so with sincere hopes of keeping democracy alive at our Co-op, I’d like to try to shine a bit more light on the subject. I’ll use a Q&A format to keep it clear.

Why was the Co-op Voice created by members, and sanctioned by the Board, in early 2016?

The Co-op Voice was created to ensure that members henceforth would have an independent, member-run medium for communication and discussion of cooperative issues.

How did members protect their right to an independent news source?

In 2016 and early 2017, membership voted in changes to the Bylaws and the Member Owner Manual to safeguard the ability of members to communicate with each other, and to clearly establish that investing time in the Co-op Voice newsletter is a way to earn member hours at Honest Weight.

How did things go after that?

The Voice published monthly without incident and attracted dedicated member owners who enjoy putting time and talent into creating and sustaining the newsletter. The Voice team received member hours for their time investment until December, 2017.

Why did the Board decide to revoke the ability of the Co-op Voice team to earn member hours in December 2017?

Voice Editors agreed to publish letters of resignation from two departing Board members (six Board members in all resigned last year) in October 2017. Two remaining Board members, criticized in the letters, objected. The Voice immediately offered to publish rebuttals from those Board members, but no rebuttals were submitted for publication. Voice Editors put the resignation letters under password protection and greatly strengthened Voice editorial policies so that in the future there would be clearer guidelines in place about what would and would not be published in the Voice.

The Board members were not satisfied, however. When the Voice declined the Board’s offer to make the newsletter part of the Board’s Communication Committee, the Board unilaterally took away the ability of Voice team members to earn member hours by publishing the Voice.

Why did the Voice not want to become part of the Communications Committee?

The Communications Committee serves to provide information about the Co-op to owners, member-owners and the public, at the behest of the Board. (The Board, by the way, can also use its own emailed Inside Scoop at will to promote its views.) A newsletter of the Communications Committee would be expected to deliver only news and views sanctioned by the Board. For example, the Communications Committee recently proposed (p. 41 of attachments to Board mtg. minutes of 01-02-18) to replace the Co-op Voice with a newsletter that would “enhance and clarify Board-to-membership communication and relations.” Please take a moment to reread and contrast that purpose with the mission with which the Co-op Voice operates; to provide an independent space for Honest Weight Food Co-op’s diverse voices to be heard.

The Co-op Voice is independent of the Board for an important reason. In the words of Alison Rose Levy, Co-Coordinating Editor of Park Slope Food Coop’s Linewaiters’ Gazette and quoted in an article about that newspaper in today’s Voice by Karla Guererri, “. . . to serve the membership [of a co-op], a newspaper needs editorial independence, otherwise it can be influenced or censored.”

According to our Bylaws, did the Board have the authority to act in this manner and withdraw Co-op resources from the Co-op Voice?

No, the Board’s action was not in accord with the 2016/2017 votes of membership to protect an independent member-run newsletter.

What do the member votes on the Voice proposals at the 1/28/18 membership meeting show?

The vote results show that the majority of members voting that night were content to retain the status quo, which is independence for the Co-op Voice. It would be implausible, and ingenuine, to say that anything else can be made of it.

For the record, the Co-op Voice is accountable to membership in the following ways:

  • A protective disclaimer, vetted by Co-op attorneys and Board members who are attorneys, is displayed prominently on the Co-op Voice website
  • The Co-op Voice has robust and comprehensive editorial policies and submission guidelines about what can and cannot be published in its pages, and these policies are adhered to.
  • The Co-op Voice’s policy and practice is to regularly consult with Co-op Managers, the Member Owner Coordinator, and appropriate others when store issues or member owner issues arise in articles that are being written.
  • The Co-op Voice team operates democratically and is always open to new team members.
  • The Voice publishes all letters submitted, as long as they follow editorial policies of Fairness, Anonymity and Respect. It is very open to comment and critique.

The Co-op Voice has proposed- and will seek membership input on- further measures of accountability to membership, such as:

  • the addition of an Editors’ Consultation Board which would include a GRC member
  • the addition of a “Comment Line” feature, enabling readers to submit comments and concerns to the Voice for resolution

We aim to provide ample assurance to the membership that the Voice is responsible and fully accountable to membership, and that the Voice has an essential role to play in our cooperative, democratic community.

Paula is a Co-Editor of the Co-op Voice. She's been an HWFC member since the eighties, when she first arrived in Albany. She is the co-founder and Director of Children at the Well Youth Storytellers. She has studied, researched, published and taught in the field of reading education, and has served as editor on a variety of projects.