A Worker-Owned Press is the Only Free Press

Worker control is the only way to avoid top-down pressure.

You’re busy, so here’s the TLDR:

  • Journalism’s problems start with its funding.

  • Both private and government-owned media models are flawed.

  • Worker-owned media is the solution.

    Interested? Keep reading!

The only thing Americans agree on is hating the media. Trump ran/is running/will run against CNN, liberals despise Fox News, and leftists are skeptical of corporate media in its entirety. Some of these charges are more valid than others, but everyone sees modern journalism as fundamentally flawed, with cracks going far deeper than the surface level gripe of “fake news.”

The core of the problem is the death-grip money and politics have on journalism. And while political beliefs undeniable sway reporting, a large portion of left-right bias can be tied back to newsroom financing, as owners try to up viewership by entertaining specific voting demographics. (Roger Ailes undoubtedly wanted a right-wing America, but was explicit about Fox New’s entertainment approach generating the network’s hefty profits.)

Currently, there are two prevalent models of funding print, digital, and televised news: 

  1. Privately owned — The more common of the two, under this model the newspapers/networks/etc. are a private company. They are either by publicly traded, or owned outright by wealthy individuals & multi-national corporations.

  2. Government-owned — This is when a government funds news as a public service. While “government news” conjures images of the totalitarian propaganda of the Soviet Union, there are softer versions, such as the U.K.’s BBC or the U.S.’s NPR.

Let’s start with the scary one.

“Everything’s Great!” An Essay by The Minister of Propaganda

Trusting a government to report on itself is the third-worst idea of all time, right behind invading Russia in the winter and betting against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. While the direst ends are Nazi radio inciting Kristallnacht and North Korea headlines claiming Kim Jong-il hit eleven holes-in-one, one mustn’t need to look to the extremes to see the flaws of state-run media.

For example, the BBC (I’d expand the acronym, but, fun fact, no one knows what it stands for), the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom, has been charged with bias from both the left and the right. Unsurprisingly, the criticism leads to the same conclusion as that leveled at other media and tech corporations: the BBC is staffed by younger, educated, likely left-of-center people who champion left-wing social justice while upholding the conservative political and social order. 

A study by Cardiff University found that the BBC gave Conservative Party “substantially more airtime” than the Labour Party. Even the former BBC Director General said the network was “part of a Westminster conspiracy preventing radical democratic change.” The network also had to apologize for selectively editing clips of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make him appear favorable before the 2019 general election.

So, while we can all agree we don’t want Stalin deciding what’s in our Sunday morning funnies, it’s important to recognize that even in democracies, government media is a deeply worrisome approach.

The Truth, but for Profit

So if state-run media leads to propaganda, then the simple fix is for news orgs to be privately owned, right? Well, not really. Wanting journalism to be better than the ruling class’s mouthpiece is a bar lower than the Titanic’s liquor cabinet.

Just as pro-government pressure, whether ordered or inferred, can stain journalists’ honest efforts, private ownership can as well. Take, for example, The Washington Post, which, in August 2013 was the target of Jeff Bezos’s retail therapy. 

Bezos, the world’s richest man, simply bought a leading newsroom for 250 million dollars.  

Read that again, and let it sink in. A man whose god-tier wealth will be impacted by regulations such as labor rights, anti-trust legislation, taxation rates, and much more now just owns the country’s prominent distributors of political and cultural information. Neat.

Even if the news wasn’t owned by wanna-be Lex Luthors, but was publicly traded, the issue persists. While we think of “public trading” as everyday people pulling themselves up through investments, the reality is that most Americans don’t have a true stake in the stock market, leaving the “publicly traded” newsrooms to be acquired by a tangled web of corporations and conglomerates, bringing us back to square one.

“We interrupt this episode of The Masked Singer with the breaking news that Blackrock Capital has never, ever done anything wrong.”

A Better Way

Now you’re probably saying: “Hey asshole, do you have a solution? Or are you just going to bitch about the only practical means of funding journalism?

To which I’d reply: “That’s Mr. Asshole to you. And yes, I do have a solution.”

If governments and wealthy financiers can’t be trusted to fund journalism, then that leaves one obvious choice — the workers. From the journalists, to the editors, to the delivery truck driver, all the way down to the old-timey orphans who huck papers in the city square, these are the people that should own their company. With worker-ownership, the content isn’t subjected to unwanted influence from corporate or electoral interests, but rather the judgment of those who create it. (Imagine: Those who create something get to control it? Outrageous!)

Now, this won’t eliminate political bias and the thirst for sensationalism. But worker-owned news will end profit-seeking and influence from parent companies, allowing workplaces to democratically set their editorial standards. Some organizations might still emulate Ron Burgundy and air car chases for higher ratings, but many won’t and will report the news they believe the public should know.

Will worker-owned news resolve every problem plaguing the industry? Absolutely not, but it’s lightyears better than the current system where billionaires just buy newspapers, which suddenly start reporting on how everything is just dandy inside Amazon’s sweatshops — I mean “warehouses” (goddammit) — Sorry, I meant to say Amazon “fulfillment centers.”

As for how workers can purchase their capitalist companies, that’s another conversation, one we plan to cover shortly, so make sure you subscribe!

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