Maria Bustillos, founding editor of the digital magazine Popula, is also one of the founding members of Brick House, an umbrella of independent publishers operating under a collectivist business model.
An earlier supporter, and benefactor, of the now-defunct media startup Civil, Bustillos said she never lost sight of the possibility of a journalist-owned media company.
Brick House will launch this October with nine sister publications, each of which owns a single share in the larger company. It will have “no owners, no executives, and no investors,” nor advertisers.
The collective will support itself through $75 yearly subscriptions, which offers access to each of the founding publications: including the investigative journal Sludge, podcast FAQ NYC, and a blog devoted to “peripheral places in the world at the margins” called No Man Is an Island.
Bustillos dialed into a Zoom call under the alias Bluestocking, an old insult to describe a “well-read” woman. We discussed the fallout from Civil’s closure, Brick House’s non-tokeneconomic business model and how immutable record-keeping will prevent tyrants from chilling speech.
Is Brick House a reference to The Commodores song?
It has a lot of appealing associations, doesn’t it? I mean really. Tom Scocca and I were talking about the idea of a cooperative and how to protect press freedom, and I had mentioned we have to have a structure that can’t be blown down. That’s where it started, and we realized later the name works on a number of levels.
Part of the structure of Brick House is that you have no owners, investors or executives. Could you tell me what a journalist-owned media cooperative actually looks like?
Well, most entrepreneurial activity is based in growing equity. Companies are essentially equity that is distributed between those that claim ownership, with the idea being that eventually it grows in…