Things are bad. But there's a legitimate path to salvation.
I love the idea. I want to support all of these substacks but it's not feasible for me to pay $50 per year to 20 great substack writers and still pay for some legacy media. So it's either limit my substacks and free ride off some people who offer part of their content free, or folks combine and I can pay a flat fee for a bunch of great substacks.
I agree with you, Hamilton - good luck getting that off the ground! If you need a dose of competitivity to kick things into gear, you might want to collectively look at efforts in non-Anglophone countries, where independent or at least new media efforts are far less depressingly slow or non-existent. Examples:
- Libération - a longtime independent and respectable progressive paper, if now hardly radical (for France), but I have never read the sort of embarrassing both-sides epistemologies in this quality paper as is found in U.S. Establishment trash (e.g. NYT*mes or W*Po).
- Mediapart - a ferocious and usually smart (if at times knee-jerk populist) independent publication with excellent investigative journalism.
In Italy in recent years, independent or -ish, or at least new and attemptedly innovative, publications have arisen:
- Fatto Quotidiano: rather niche if boring but smart and with a point of view: no both-sidesing rubbish or obsequious attention to the official hierarchy
- Domani: serious, if fairly white and male (aren't they all...), and owned by a corporation, but it basically came into being with a snap of the fingers after the early part of the pandemic; the point is there was the *will* for a new independent paper, and it quickly emerged: voilà.
-Il Post: I salute the effort even though the editors uncritically synthesize what the other mainstream papers, especially Anglo ones, are reporting on (I told them this when I canceled my subscription).
The U.S. has its milquetoast progressive-ish outlets, but these are severely hampered by non-profit status or cash/resource poverty (e.g. In These Times, Mother Jones, The Nation, ProPublica) and most importantly are not sustained *daily* journalistic outlets.
Cash/resource poor is the operative word. The most shocking thing about this situation is the massive, grotesque amount of capital existing in the United States and other Anglophone countries. If the French and Italians (just two examples), who have far far far far less disposable income and capital than the Americans, can frequently put out decent, and most of all good-faith, independent/new journalistic enterprises, what the hell is preventing the greedy Americans from doing the same?
Besides the fact that the U.S. has 5-6 times the population of France or Italy, there is just so much insane wealth lying around in that country doing nothing. Instead of lazily paying for worthless media subscriptions like to the cowardly and inept NYT*mes, the (comparatively where not plutocratically rich) Americans could think about dipping into their vast sick stores of capital. If so, it really should not be hard to get an independent publication off the ground. It's obviously a cultural issue: the inability for Americans to fund even the most minimal independent smart progressive journalistic enterprise is about as embarrassing as its inability to build a high-speed train network. Or as embarrassing as its people's inability to get out into the streets to strike/protest even as human and civil rights are ripped away by SCOTUS and the Republican Party. It is beyond shameful (and why I have the fortune to be an expat).
Even though I am extremely poor (my non-unionized freelance jobs also being replaced by robots and AI!), I am happy to pay for subscriptions to new/independent media - such as your site! - that make an effort to counter the incompetent cowardly fascist-apologist Establishment rags, such as the execrable NYT*mes or W*Po, which more than anything exist to uphold the power structure such as it is rather than report on truths important to actual human beings.
I'm old, so I remember paying for local news by handing money every week to a kid on a bicycle.
Nice thought provoking article Hamilton. I think it's be a great experiment to see some writers start a sort of Co-op "Newspaper" on Substack where they all combine efforts for a common enterprise and the reader pays a single subscription fee... or substack comes up with a potential idea for "bundled subscriptions" that authors can opt into (that's subsidized by Substack?)
I'm totally up for paying for my news to get away from the ad based revenue model and the sensationalistic negative clickbait headlines/articles. Seems like this would start on a more of a national story basis and could filter to other sizable local markets if it gets traction. But people are cheap and have been trained to pay $0 for what they do read and some people amazingly just get their news from places like twitter and facebook (which is scary).
It'll take time and quality to convert readers to a paid model especially in an environment where we're already suffering fatigue from the proliferating "software as a service" subscription model that is now being employed across most industries today. Not that it's wrong, it's just that the typical consumer only has so much money for subscriptions.
Though they aren't journalists, the "Every" publication for business writing on substack kind of has the shape of what you're talking about. I'd love to see more media models like this. The distrust people have for what they're reading and watching is only going to get worse with ai, and people will continue to turn towards individual journalists and thinkers they know and trust.
Hey I come here to get angry not hopeful! Well done.
Another great thing about this model, as a consumer following INDIVIDUAL journalists, is that you sidestep the problem of ChatGTP interference. The substack author has 100% control of what is on the site...no chance for bad actors or Trojan Horses
Another blast from the past that the internet killed--FREE weeklies. Remember how much investigative reporting they used to do? Cellphones killed them. They were THE BEST.
I WILL PAY. I would pay much more for local news especially if it wasn't run by a billionaire. We just have to pray the SCOTUS doesn't destroy freedom of speech.