It’s no secret that journalism and journalists everywhere are under attack and are constantly vilified from all fronts. Though constructive criticism of the press is sometimes warranted, a free, independent, and honest press has never been more needed.
The role of the press is to ask hard questions and refuse to be deterred even when someone powerful claims, “Nothing to see here.” At first glance, it might seem as if the press is a destabilizing force: It can undermine the credibility of our elected officials and ultimately our confidence in government. It can drive down stock prices and embolden our nation’s critics and enemies. It can uncover inconvenient truths and stir divisions within our society. But our Founders understood that long-term accountability is more important than short-term stability. Where would America be without the muckrakers of the progressive era, like Ida Tarbell, who uncovered the perfidy and immorality of the Standard Oil monopoly under John D. Rockefeller; without The New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the lies around the Vietnam War; without the dogged work of The Boston Globe in documenting sexual abuse within the Catholic Church? Because of the press, powerful institutions were held accountable for their actions, and we became a stronger nation.
What we forget is that news is a business. There are costs associated with producing good news just as with any organizations - offices, desks, pens, computers, salaries, protective equipment. We are all too quick to snap at, and quip about, paywalls on news sites, but find it totally reasonable when we have to pay for Netflix, Spotify, HBO or Amazon Prime.
We herald news as a public service, we forget that tax dollars don’t pay for this public service. This is especially troubling during this pandemic when thousands of journalism jobs have vanished (not to speak of the thousands in the decade prior). The jobs that stay don’t pay enough, especially considering the personal risks journalists take.
What is clear is this: if you don’t pay for it, there won’t be any left.
Now more than ever the world needs strong watchdogs to check those in power. Whether that be governments, individuals or businesses, what they all fear is their dirty laundry being made public. What we need is to be aware of the facts and the truth; everything from what’s happening in our neighborhoods to what’s happening in the largest global organizations.
Here are some concrete ways to do that:
Subscribe to your local newspaper/publication
Local newspapers, just like local health departments, are the best way to ensure your own community has accountability, and that critical information is disseminated. Local news by virtue is decentralized and aware of what matters to the community. Unfortunately, with capitalism-driven consolidation (and giant tech platforms) local news is also dying at an unprecedented rate.
Even if you don’t read your local paper, give them the money (if you can afford to). In the US, most local papers (print or digital) cost between $5-$15 per month.
Donate to a local non-profit publication
Even though non-profit publications have different incentive structure than their for-profit counterparts, they still have a balance sheet. Some non-profit newsrooms are more general (eg Crosscut in Seattle) while others are focused on certain topics (eg InsideClimateNews for climate reporting).
You can find non-profit publications to support on Newsmatch.
Subscribe to a national publication
There are not as many national publications, but large size affords them the opportunity to experiment more, take more risks, do bigger projects. Some names that come to mind are NYT, Washington Post, LA Times, The Atlantic. All of them change between $10-$20 per month for digital access.