It’s easy to blame a vague and elitist media for Trump. After all, a lot of problems that have taken root in the fourth estate.
Plenty has been said about Facebook’s role in this, but we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge the problem is much bigger than just the medium through which most of us get our news.
Editorial monopolies control a lot of what we see and hear on the news, along with the spin it is given. Meanwhile sales for print media continue to decline and ad revenue for online outlets is rapidly sliding down the same slippery slope.
What we’ve been left with is a media industry that can’t survive without capitulating to the increased pressure to tell stories that capture our attention as opposed to those that inform us about important issues.
As the echo-chamber theory goes: this trend is squeezing out the news we need to hear and leaving us only with the kind we want to hear. Unfortunately, these problems are often self-perpetuating. Diminished faith in the media leads to diminished support for quality journalism which leads to diminished faith in the media, and so on.
We’re not quite responsible for the state of today’s media, but we’re certainly complicit in its continued decline – and that probably means we have a responsibility to try and fix it.
There are plenty of quality voices in the media who want to “make journalism great again” – they just need the chance and support to do so.
We’ve grown up accustomed to the idea of not paying for the news. However, that implicit denial of the value that journalists bring to society is part of why we are where we are.
We aren’t going to get better news until we address that – and come together on a few ground rules.
If we all agree that good journalism is a vital part of informing and educating the public to the world around them and the ramifications that their democratic voice will have,then surely we can agree it has to be supported by the public, right?
That’s what McChesney argues. In his book Digital Disconnect, he makes the case for a new model of diverse government sponsored journalism.
He calls this model the citizenship news voucher, saying:
“The idea is simple. Every American adult gets a $200 voucher she can use to donate money to any nonprofit news medium of her choice. She will indicate her choice on her tax return. If she does not file a tax return, a simple for will be available for use. She can split her $200 among several different qualifying nonprofit media.”
“A government agency, probably operating out of the IRS can be set up to allocate the funds and to determine eligibility according to universal standards that err on the side of expanding rather than constraining the number of serious sources covering and commenting on the
issues of the day.”
Importantly, the allocation of funds would be exercised on nonprofit mediums that solely produces media content. “The medium could not be part of a larger organization that has any non-media operations.”
He also says: “Qualifying media ought not be permitted to accept advertising; this is a sector that is to have a direct and primary relationship with its audience.”
“The voucher system would produce intense competition because a medium cannot take its support for granted. It would reward imitative and punish sloth. It would be democratic because rich and poor would get the same voucher. And the government would have no control over who’d get the money, whether left, right or center.”
While McChesney’s approach is definitely a model for what we should push our governments to work towards, it’s important to look at what we can do in the meantime.
If you only read one source of news, change that. No matter how good that one outlet is, only reading one take on the news limits your scope. Don’t just follow the big mastheads like the Sydney Morning Herald or the Guardian – try to support smaller publications.
These days, a digital subscription of something like the New Statesman, The Guardian or The Monthly can only cost $5 or $10 a month.
If you agree that having good media is important, putting your money where your mouth is the least you can do. We can advocate bigger reform all we want but in the meantime, we get the media we’re willing to support and the one we deserve.