What can we do about the media? Own it, suggests Vanessa Baird.

Author: Vanessa Baird

We are living in a time full of threats – and unprecedented possibilities.

It’s hard to imagine a more toxic combination than fake news and climate denial.

And when the two become the official policy of the most powerful nation in the world, it’s hard not to believe that we are all going to hell in a handcart.

So what’s there to be positive about?

Well, strange and paradoxical things are happening in the world of the media, at any rate.

At the same time as trust is journalism has sunk to an all-time low (a recent British survey puts public confidence in journalists at just 25 per cent) there is a huge upsurge in interest in creating a better, more democratic and accountable media.

If you don’t believe it, look at what is happening right now with New Internationalist. The 44-year-old social and environmental justice magazine is in the middle of a bold experiment in handing over ownership to its readers and supporters.

It has embarked on the world’s biggest-ever media community share offer. The risky make-or-break, all-or-nothing, crowdfunder on factsandheart.org runs out on 6 April.

The response so far has been encouraging. With just a week to go, more than 1,900 citizens have pledged to invest and 80 per cent of the £500,000 target has been reached. ‘There’s still a mountain to climb, but the summit is in sight,’ said co-editor Hazel Healy.

Given the general state of the media, it’s easy to understand why the Oxford-based publishing co-operative is fundraising. For the past ten years the internet has brought growing readership but at the cost of breaking the business model. The trouble is, quality journalism is expensive to produce but we have all become accustomed to getting our news for free. (Having said that, the magazine has seen a modest rise in print and digital subscriptions in the last few months.)

The company has a fully worked-out, five-pronged business plan that includes: a relaunch of the magazine, strengthening its book publishing arm, digital improvements and expansion of its Ethical Shop and events programme. Explaining how the £500,000 figure was settled upon, the company says: ‘We’ve crunched the numbers and this is the sum we need to transform our business and set ourselves on a firm financial footing.’

But why should ordinary people want to invest in such media? A look at the comments investors are leaving on the crowdfunding website factsandheart.org provides a clue or two:

New Internationalist first caught my eye while I was a college student in the Philippines,’ writes Rhona Lopez-Nath. ‘Giving passionate readers worldwide the chance to affordably co-own and meaningfully shape an iconic leader in independent journalism is an opportunity not to be missed!’

Another investor, Charles, writes: ‘There is very little independent journalism of any sort these days: this applies to progressive publications as well as others. It is very important to have independent and progressive voices and user-ownership is also a good way to encourage focused work, whether journalistic or otherwise.’

While Julio Etchart captures the mood of many with: ‘I hope we can all reach the target together and make it the most egalitarian and democratic media project in the world!’

So, there is certainly interest out there in a better, more ethical, more democratically owned media – and a willingness among ordinary people to put their money where their mouths are.

Whether it will be possible to orchestrate a comparable kickback against climate-change denial remains to be seen, as President Trump sets about reversing existing US commitments to CO2 reduction.

In these dark times it’s important to remember that unintended consequences can be positive as well as negative.

Go to factsandheart.org to find out more about the New Internationalist community share offer.

Vanessa Baird is a co-editor with New Internationalist.

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