Monday, July 12, 2021

As The NYTimes Has Amply Demonstrated - Captive Media Does NOTHING Good For Democracy

NYTimes |   The Substack model has no shortage of skeptics. “A robust press is essential to a functioning democracy, and a cultural turn toward journalistic individualism might not be in the collective interest,” Anna Weiner argued in The New Yorker last year. “It is expensive and laborious to hold powerful people and institutions to account, and, at many media organizations, any given article is the result of collaboration between writers, editors, copy editors, fact-checkers and producers.” Most of the journalism that thrives on Substack is commentary, which is often cheaper than news to produce.

But that doesn’t mean that traditional news organizations are somehow safe from the competition. As Will Oremus writes in Slate, commentators have historically acted as subsidies for the more expensive and less glamorous work of local reporting — and, I would add for news operations like this one, international coverage.

“The Times’s digital success has been built partly on a major expansion of its opinion section; magazines such as The Atlantic and Mother Jones have relied on their best-known columnists to support their originally reported features and investigations,” Oremus writes. “It’s those personalities that Substack is going after and poaching.”

As a result, the paid subscription newsletter business is likely to favor writers who already have a national platform. “If you visit Substack’s website,” Clio Chang wrote for The Columbia Journalism Review last year, “you’ll see leaderboards of the top 25 paid and free newsletters; the writers’ names are accompanied by their little circular avatars. The intention is declarative — you, too, can make it on Substack. But as you peruse the lists, something becomes clear: The most successful people on Substack are those who have already been well served by existing media power structures.”

It’s doubtless a good deal for that small coterie of writers. But whether the citizenry will benefit in the long run is another question. Sarah Roberts, a professor at the School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, has gone so far as to call Substack “dangerous” and a “threat to journalism.”

“People not inside journalism or media may not know the specifics, but they often have a nebulous sense that there are norms — independence, disclosure of compromise, editorial oversight and vetting of the reporting,” she tweeted in February. By decamping to an independent newsletter, “An investigative reporter who has earned her bona fides in a newsroom and under both strict editorial and journalistic principles, has just cashed out and turned herself into an opinion writer.”

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