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The IMI Journal: SOS for Public Interest Journalism

February 5, 2021

We’re about 25 years into the digital news revolution, and here’s a quick rundown of what it looks like to me: when the tech giants started chipping away at newspaper ad revenues, the commercial news organizations tried to compete with what the social media companies were producing by diluting their content and prioritizing tabloid stories over substantive ones. And even then, the commercial news sites failed to pull in the audiences that social media could, and started cutting their staff and producing increasingly useless, ad-filled content.

The tech giants were pretty indifferent to what information ran through their platforms, as long as it was generating ad revenue, and created new problems by fostering a wide audience for misleading information, from politics to nutrition. Not only this, but the tech companies ended up monopolizing the entire online ad business. The billionaires who cornered various markets and who now own the most influential social media companies have had an abysmal record of supporting the public interest journalism that this country desperately needs; could it be because their wealth is utterly predicated on a monopolistic and overwhelming abuse of their power. After all, it’s the very thing that good journalism would expose.

Meanwhile, TV news went increasingly down the drain, offering less and less useful information to the public. Take your pick of a cable news network channel, keep it on for a few hours, and I will wager you will not see a single substantive segment on an issue that ranks in the top 20 concerns of the public. Most of the big issues—like the state of K-12 public education, climate change, and immigration—require at least 30 minutes to broadly explain. Cable offers hundreds of channels—and yet there is hardly any TV journalism about the things that matter to society.

Visiting the websites of the few large news-gathering organizations remaining, a reader has to spend a good percentage of the time avoiding aggressive advertising or paywalls to see if there is anything worth learning. The content itself on foreign affairs is through a totally distorted lens that advances the interests of global finance; the op-ed writers are stenographers for an array of corporate think tanks or intelligence agencies that prioritize the growth of their budgets above all else. The experience of trying to nail down basic facts in the last 10 months about COVID-19 has been tricky; members of the public have had to sift through a wide array of material to get to the bottom of a simple question like “how likely is reinfection?”

Journalism in the U.S. has never been paradise, and while it’s tempting to gripe endlessly about it, the better inclination is to produce it, and get it to the broadest audiences possible. The extremely talented and dedicated journalists we work with at the Independent Media Institute are plugging away—you’ll see the recent stories below—on work to be proud of, work that deserves to be at the forefront of our national conversation.

We do our very best to keep the flame going. The thing is, there’s one more dispiriting thing: philanthropists generally have a hard time understanding the point of funding media, not just IMI—I mean media in general. It gets a fraction of the support that it deserves. There’s a host of understandable reasons for it—I’ve come to believe one problem is that it’s not tangible, not an immediate deliverable like a lot of things that philanthropy can produce; a homeless shelter, a playground, a protected wilderness.

The outcomes of a society that doesn’t produce much good journalism, and even worse is losing its appetite for good journalism, are quite apparent—there are tens of millions of credulous citizens who will believe anything a demagogue tells them to, even if it upends their system of government. We got a vivid illustration of that over the past four years, culminating in the scene at the Capitol on January 6.

Good journalism is always on the frontlines of making change. We can’t have a democratic culture without good journalism, or the many people and organizations that are required to produce it and distribute it.

I hope you might consider this a bit—and join us by supporting our work.

Thanks from Jan Ritch-Frel and the rest of the IMI team.

P.S.: Please, if you haven’t already, check out our most recent work below:

Betsy DeVos Is Gone, But Her Education Agenda Is Rolling Out Across the Country

Jeff Bryant – February 5, 2021 – Our Schools

COVID-19 Has Exposed the Fragility of Our Food System—Here’s How We Can Localize It

April M. Short – February 4, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

No Matter the Odds, the Democrats Must Stay Strong on Impeachment

Bill Blum – February 4, 2021

Exploring Local Solutions to Our Collective Crises That Actually Work—From California to Alaska

April M. Short – February 3, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

The So-Called Moderna Vaccine Is a Publicly Funded Miracle

Alex Lawson – February 2, 2021 – Economy for All

Trump Unleashed Dozens of Dangerous Pesticides on America—Now It’s Up to Biden to Protect Us

Reynard Loki – February 2, 2021 – Earth | Food | Life

How the Community Helps Sustain Portland’s Ongoing Black Lives Matter Protests

April M. Short – January 31, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

How New Solar Power Projects Support the Homeless and Fight Against Fossil Fuels

April M. Short – January 30, 2021 – Local Peace Economy

500 Voting Bills Await State Legislators; 100 of Them Would Make Voting Much Harder

Steven Rosenfeld – January 29, 2021 – Voting Booth

The U.S. Economy Excels at One Thing: Producing Massive Inequality

Richard D. Wolff – January 29, 2021 – Economy for All

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