Hopes and Delusions of the Liberal Press

Liberal America’s press has experienced Trump’s election as a political catastrophe and a professional failure, due to its inability to grasp the depth of the country’s distress. During this self-examination, a sudden discovery emerged. Newspaper companies have not lost credibility or support. Instead, the disturbing change in U.S. politics has resulted in their financial growth. Many citizens are frightened by the ascent of a populist tycoon, by the incessant whirlwind of fake news and, ultimately, by the weakening of American democracy. This fear has led them to once again support newspapers that had been neglected in the last few years in favor of citizen journalism in the new digital ecosystem. The Trump earthquake has resulted in a significant increase of readers for mainstream media. The New York Times, for example, recorded over 130,000 new paid subscriptions during the three weeks following the vote. There was then a boom in philanthropic support toward media outlets that depend on volunteer work, such as the cooperative organization for investigative journalism ProPublica, or Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

These organizations have received small donations from private citizens who have given a few dozen or hundreds of dollars each, under the classic system of crowdfunding. More substantial sums have been donated by “ethical investors” who call themselves “venture philanthropists.” They are trying to combine philanthropic funding with an entrepreneurial mindset in the management of media. Has the press found a new way to sustain itself during these hard times? There are already plenty of cases, such as Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post, or the Craigslist founder financing fact-checking websites, as well as the Philadelphia Enquirer, the first great U.S. newspaper owned by a non-profit organization. And ProPublica, after the vote on Nov. 8, received nearly a million dollars more than it did in 2015 total. This phenomenon deserves attention, but the liberal press risks buying into a new delusion: that it can pursue professional reporting while disregarding economic principles. This new model does not always make the intentions of donors clear, not to mention the dubious value of reports conducted via ad hoc funding.

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