Capitalism, at least the version that is commonly practiced in this era that we currently live in, has a long list of terrible drawbacks. The one I was thinking most about this evening, as I cruised the canals of Amsterdam, is the marriage of business and media.
Let us take a step back for a moment. While pure capitalism seems to push for a world where everything is a commodity and everything can be bought and sold. We know, in fact, that many things cannot and SHOULD NOT be for sale. Examples of this include matters of public safety, like the Fire Department. Many centuries ago they experimented with private fire brigades in the US, but of course houses that didn’t pay for service burned down and led to other houses catching fire. Clearly, fire protection was deemed something that cannot be a business.
Let us return to media, a far cry from the world of fires and fire protection. Media is widely operated around the world as a business. While there are numerous public media run from public funds, a majority of the world’s information comes from media companies that are private businesses. Why even in terms of language (english anyway) you hear this cultural norm in the term “the newspaper business”. Yup, when you talk about media, you’re almost always talking about business.
Yet everywhere you look there is evidence of what a terrible and detrimental marriage this is. News reports mixed with advertisements to the point you can’t tell which is which. Media companies buying other media companies and cutting staff and budgets in order to increase profit margins. News programs covering topics that will attract the most amount of people in order to attract the most amount of advertisers, appealing to people’s insecurities, fears, or dreams. Ignoring news that makes people uncomfortable about their lives, their government, or the companies they help fund. Firing or marginalizing reporters that dare to challenge this system, by direct or indirect orders of business managers or sponsors.
Over and over again, now of course, on the internet, we are told that media is a business and that is just how it has to be.
People ask me, “Maybe you could make a living out of your work on the site by having ads or a sponsor”, and I make some excuse about not being sure what to do. The truth is I am very sure it has been and would be a mistake. More than that, I disagree with the global norm, the widely accepted tradition that this is how media works and the world will be fine if this continues. It’s not fine. We are not ok, and one of the most basic reasons is the way our media system functions… the business of reporting the news.
And so I carry on without the sponsors. Without the money that journalists need to survive. Like many of my friends and fellow reporters on the internet, I try to formulate a better way. Or more often, sit here hoping that if I keep doing my work, that new day will finally come when media breaks free from business and finds a better way to exist. One where reporting about people and injustice gets the priority, and funding comes without the need to sell something or compromise the essential principles that make it possible to shed light on what has been left in the dark for much too long.