You have no obligation to subscribe to a newspaper (but you probably should)
A recent tweet got me thinking about the insistence that people shouldn't cancel their newspaper subscriptions if papers take wild ideological swings to the right.
Last week, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw this short thread from Jeff Sharlet about the state of journalism, newspaper subscriptions, and culture:
His thread, which is worth reading in full, can be read here.
I took notice of Sharlet’s thread because of the ubiquity of the idea that people have a responsibility of some sort to fund The New York Times or The Washington Post.
Simply put: I disagree with this idea, and I want to use this newsletter to explain why I disagree. Also, none of this is meant to be a criticism of Sharlet, his opinions, or his work. If you read through what he’s tweeted on this topic, he does at various points make clear that the overall argument he’s making is simply that people should pay for news wherever it is that they get it. But seeing this reminded me of the larger “don’t unsubscribe” argument, which is what I want to address.
First off, yes, I am a proponent of paying for news. If you have the financial means to fund news, please consider purchasing a subscription to your local newspaper, news cooperative, or independent media writer (*cough cough* link below):
I know the exact type of person Sharlet is referring to in his thread because I am that person. And while I don’t typically call myself a “liberal” (I usually refer to myself as a progressive), and while I certainly don’t “boast” about canceling (or threatening to cancel) subscriptions, I have found myself at breaking points with certain publications. For instance, here’s a post from last year when I canceled my Washington Post subscription:
The tl;dr of that piece is basically that Post reporters have been an unrelenting embarrassment since Biden took office. During the Trump years, they’d run stories like “In a pro-Trump town, they never stopped saying ‘Merry Christmas.’” (No town anywhere “stopped saying ‘Merry Christmas.’” This was such a bizarre piece that could have been an opportunity to point out just how delusional conservative culture war cry bullies are when it comes to their made-up “war on Christmas” nonsense, but instead acted as though they were perfectly rational for falsely believing that Obama and Democrats had waged war on their ability to celebrate Christmas.), but the Post had veered even more to the right following Biden’s election.
My tipping point came when Post reporter Annie Linskey tweeted a photo of Biden visiting his dead son and dead wife’s graves with “Biden goes to church and walks through a graveyard in Wilmington as his legislative agenda is dying in Washington.” Nope. Nope. Nope. That’s not “reporting.” That’s opinion work, and it’s the exact type of thing that would have gotten a reporter fired had they tweeted it about Trump while he was in office. Between that and the Post’s Ashley Parker tweeting that “Worth noting that Biden ran for office promising to restore democracy after 4 years of Trump. But today it was the British leader, NOT the American one, who spotlighted a key tenet of a flourishing democracy — respect for a free press — by taking questions from his press corps.” (Biden did, in fact, take questions at the event she was referring to. When people pointed this out to her, she snarkily responded, “#BeBest.”)
But really, there are a lot of reasons to cancel (or not cancel) a subscription. My frustration is about the moralizing that comes with this “don’t unsubscribe” attitude, and I’ll try my best to articulate why.
Corporate media exists to make a profit (and to pursue the political goals of their billionaire owners).
I used to be young and foolish, thinking that journalism was a type of “calling,” an important service to society, etc. But the longer I’ve worked in and around the industry, the more foolish I feel for having ever believed that.
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