Non-corporate news media need our support now more than ever.
OK, everyone, the day of mourning is over and I can see this thing more clearly: The guy who repeatedly endorsed what Americans supposedly consider Bad Things?—?racism, sexism, religious discrimination and xenophobia?—?is about to become the most powerful person in the world. He is backed by 58% of white voters, and slightly fewer than half of voters overall. Now it’s up to the rest of us to make sure Trump and his cadre don’t cause pain and suffering on a massive, global scale. Trump’s opposition will also need to secure support for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 elections.
But how do we do that when the Republican party will control the Executive and Legislative branches, and, almost certainly, the Judicial branch as well?
The answer: There is one “branch” of government Trump and the GOP will not control.
It is the one Edmund Burke called the “Fourth Estate” at a UK parliamentary debate in 1787. That same year, Thomas Jefferson wrote about it in a letter to Edward Carrington.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”
Newspapers took an “unprecedented stand” against Trump, wrote the Atlantic. Of the top 100 newspapers by circulation, 57 endorsed Hillary Clinton, and four backed Gary Johnson. Three said “not Trump.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal and The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL) were the only two to back him.
Newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have blasted corporate TV news outlets for giving Trump way more airtime than other candidates, and for the uncritical nature of their coverage. (That’s no surprise: I learned in 4 years at CNN that TV networks do far less reporting than newspapers do.) The chorus of criticism was echoed by public media like PBS and NPR. Given that criticism, we as readers and viewers will want journalists to take Trump to task for his statements and polices over the next four years.
The reason they may not be able to is, of course, the crisis in journalism. Since the late 90s, very lucrative print, radio and TV advertising has been shifting to the web, where ad rates started out tiny, and have never managed to equal offline ad rates. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions have also decreased sharply, and paid-for classified ads have migrated to free services like Craigslist.
There’s also the issue of damaged public trust in journalism, which is partly the result of news outlets chasing clicks and ratings as their bottom lines went into freefall.
If investigative journalism is to survive, we as an audience are going to have to find a way to fund it. And that is probably going to cost each of us money.
Online subscriptions have helped the New York Times stay afloat. We once paid for every paper that came to our house and paid a cable bill that helped draw ad money to news networks. Now, just as we pay a Netflix bill, we should subscribe to newspapers and magazines that publish the kind of articles we want to read, or we may not be able to read them anymore.
While terrestrial TV and radio have always been free here (they cost a license fee in the UK), public radio and television have always been funded significantly by audience donations. Public media is not-for-profit, and has a firewall protecting it from government interference, too. We all hate the PBS and NPR fund drives interrupting the programming that (some of us) have paid for, but it’s necessary if we want these outlets to keep hiring journalists.
You can also donate to non-profit investigative journalism organizations, which are not run by corporations or the government. The Global Investigative Journalism Network maintains a list of them here.
It’s interesting to note that a 1926 amendment allowed the National Press Club building to exceed height restrictions in the District of Columbia. From the 13th and 14th floors, journalists monitor the government. The incoming government is certainly going to require monitoring by robust and aggressive journalists. And if we want to know what’s happening, we have to do what we’ve done historically: We have to pay their salaries.