Growing up, endeavoring to start a neighborhood newspaper was a fairly common pastime for me and my sisters. Struck by an urgent need to report on bunny rabbit sightings or baby squirrel nests, we’d pull sheets of paper out of the legal-sized tray in the enormous photocopying machine in my dad’s home office. In between wasting toner making copies of our grubby handprints, we’d get scissors and rulers and rolls of Scotch tape to cobble together a masthead. It was rare that we had more news than would fill the front page and so stories were mostly given equal weight: there were investigations of the builders digging foundations at the old farm across the street next to reports of daffodil blooms astride birthday party announcements. Our delivery route was stymied by the fact that we lived on the busy main thoroughfare through town and so we mostly made deliveries to our immediate neighbors, or stuffed animals, or our obedient parents. Everyone was expected to pay a penny per paper. All sentient beings complied.
When you are not a seven-year-old, convincing someone to pay for something they think they should get for free becomes more difficult. And changing your own mindset regarding doling out additional pennies might be even tougher. But this year, I’ve embraced paying for the news I read, more than ever.
Living in the United States at this particular moment means having at least a cursory familiarity with the term ‘fake news’. Originally used predominately to describe the preponderance of false news stories disseminated—wittingly or unwittingly, with effect on the election, or not—on the internet during the presidential campaign, the term has been lobbed back and forth by people calling all manner of news fake, whether or not it is.
As we have in the past, and as we likely will in the future, we currently face an administration that casts doubt on the work of journalists. Saddled with a government that’s demonstrated in just a few weeks that they’re willing to weave lies about any manner of topics, we need to rely more than ever on the brave folks whose job it is to seek out the truth and tell us about it. Without real news, and with accusations that all news is fake news, our compass gets thrown out of whack. We become suspicious. We begin to doubt everything we hear. We become vulnerable and, without being even slightly hyperbolic, so does our democracy.
We need the work of journalists who have decided that rather than just digest the news over their morning coffee, they’re going to seek it out at the source. We count on them to dig deep, to show up, to investigate goings-on from smack dab in the thick of them so that the rest of can burn our tongues on coffee and sputter through the offending bits of reportage from the relative comfort of our breakfast tables, or beds.
We need a free press, but that press isn’t free. It needs resources and to put it quite bluntly, we need to pay for it. I’ve had a paper or digital subscription to the New York Times from the moment I had my own apartment, but this year I’m also paying for subscriptions to The Washington Post and The New Yorker. I’ve made donations to my local NPR station. Supporting sites that are predominately reader-supported instead of ad-supported means ensuring the survival of publications striving to avoid commercial conflicts of interest. Democracy Now, and Bitch are both ad-free, not to mention the not-exactly-newsy, but nevertheless soul-affirming, Brain Pickings.
Here’s my bit of encouragement that some of you might also be able to also support the news in this way. Whether it’s paying for a digital or print subscription to a paper, buying movie tickets to a documentary film, pledging a donation to a local radio or television station, throwing a few pennies the way of your favorite podcast or newsletter, helping to support the folks making great media is the surest way to ensure that we stay informed and stay engaged, and not just about neighborhood bunny sightings. Though those are nice to know about, too.
What about you guys? What news sources do you subscribe to?
(PS. If you’d rather spend Valentine’s Day thinking about love stuff, here’s some newsprint used for a different kind of message.)