By Laura Flanders in collaboration with the Next System Project.
Whose media revolution?
Americans have experienced revolutionary moments before; moments in which entire systems of governance, of production, of labor relations, and social organization, broke apart and stitched themselves back up in new ways. In every one of those moments, whether it was the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Gilded Age, or the Silicon Valley age, media fueled the transformation and were transformed by it.
In our era of extreme capital accumulation, media capital has accumulated—extremely. What we need is a bottom-up remaking of our system, and new commitment to media as a public good.
NBC recently reported that the Amazon corporation is in the process of buying up television channels. The corporation, which already accounts for about a quarter of all online sales in the United States, is holding talks to “supersize” its video-channel business, not just in the US but around the world. That, even as the right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the largest owners of TV stations in the US is in the process of creating an ideologically-driven broadcasting behemoth that would reach some 72 percent of the television-viewing audience coast-to-coast.
Online, dozens of radical and progressive media outlets are reporting that Google and Facebook’s new search engine algorithms appear to be blocking their sites in the name of combatting “fake” news. Just one such site, AlterNet, reported this September that its search traffic plummeted by 40 percent—a loss of an average of 1.2 million people every month since the new algorithms went into effect. “The reality we face is that two companies, Google and Facebook—which are not media companies, which do not have editors, or fact checkers, which do no investigative reporting—are deciding what people should read, based on a failure to understand how media and journalism function,” said Alternet’s Don Hazen.
Institutions matter. Professional, not-for-profit, public journalism has passion; it even has some specks of infrastructure, but a grand pyramid of public interest reporting, news, culture and analysis, rests on a very few, very rusty, pillars of public media infrastructure. The public needs to recommit to the principle of journalism as a public good. The state needs to act as it did in times gone by. Public media needs financing, especially financing that will support the least well-endowed. Leveling the unequal media playing field isn’t only a matter of fairness: it’s critical for high quality journalism, the sort on which our democracy depends. And this kind of journalism is imperative if we are to bring into being the sort of “next system” we need.
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