Saturday, November 5, 2016

I've just donated $1,000 to ProPublica. Why we all should do our share

A while back I announced my quixotic campaign to convince you all that paying for your favorite journalism is a civic responsibility (hashtag: #payForJournalism.) I've just made a promise real, and donated $1,000 to ProPublica. Many news organizations do excellent reporting. Without it, much wrongdoing would go unnoticed. Just see ProPublica's Electionland, or what your local newspapers, radio, and TV stations regularly uncover.

Not supporting them with your money, at least with a simple subscription —if you know that you benefit from what they publish, and if you can afford it— is ethically dubious, to say the least. A weekly newspaper subscription costs less than a large latte at Starbucks.

I know, “news publications screw up all the time, reporters are far from perfect, and, hey, these companies decided to put their stuff on the Internet for free! I'm not doing anything bad by being a free rider.” Yada yada yada. Lame excuses. You know that these organizations aren't getting nearly enough money from ads. You read what they publish, you learn useful stuff from it and, as a result, your life gets better. Any other consideration is a caveat, a footnote, or an example of Trumpian rationalization.

You may think that making a donation public is gratuitous boasting. That isn't the case. According to Peter Singer's wonderful Ethics in the Real World, speaking openly about donations helps convince other people to donate. So, yes, if you are a pure free rider when it comes to benefiting from good journalism, my explicit goal with this post is not to boast, but to embarrass you.

Here's Singer (full disclosure: I also donate to charities, which is what Singer focuses on mostly in this chapter):

By the way, I recommend you read Rolling Blackouts, a graphic novel that illustrates how reporters truly think and work. Some images: