Newspapers or Free Papers?

Newspapers can never be free in a society that really values democracy. Propaganda rag sheets that actively undermine democracy, however, can be, and are, distributed for free or for next to nothing. This, of course, speaks volumes to the antidemocratic nature of the times we live in, as newspapers have the potential to serve as a priceless ally in the daily struggle for justice and equality. Yet, paradoxically, this is exactly what they have become: priceless, not to the public, but to the ruling elites attempting to profitably manage us. By Michael Barker.

Free 'news'-papers might be considered antidemocratic on two counts. Firstly, such papers do not provide news to the public; instead, they provide carefully refined propaganda crafted as news. This information is not intended to stimulate and educate its readers; it is information that is meant to be consumed and assimilated, and is created in a way that strictly limits the educative value of any ensuing public debates that concern its dubious content. Real news, on the other hand, requires substantial amounts of money to produce, while the rewriting of press releases does not. This explains why many newspapers are so cheap: they are cheap because their production comes at a high price. The real price we pay with - perhaps unwittingly - is our freedom.

Secondly, considering that the costs of producing a press release-filled paper are minimal, the public have become socialised to the idea that they can have professionally produced content for next to no monetary outlay. Thus, by externalising the costs of production, free 'news'-papers actually make it harder for journalists intent on strengthening democracy to make a viable livelihood. This is because authentic writers and publishers seeking to produce educational fare cannot sell their work for its true value as most people are simply unwilling to part with such comparatively large sums of money. Consequently, the circulation of papers that seek to promote news and not corporate propaganda tend to struggle to make ends meet, and they certainly find it difficult, if not impossible, to grow.

In recent decades, more democratically minded journalists have chosen to bypass the corporate press and now use the Internet to publish their reports and articles. But while such changes have proven useful in breaking existing communicative barriers, the virtual world of 'news'-making still remains dominated by the same corporate behemoths that regulate the paper propaganda-scape. This necessarily means that writers of non-corporate-aligned material tend to find themselves preaching to the converted and for little or no monetary renumeration. Even the largest US-based news outlets, like ZNet and CounterPunch, struggle to get even a fraction of their many readers to part with money; money that is urgently required to support their valuable news services. The same is true, of course, of Corporate Watch and many other radical news collectives throughout the world.

This lack of financial support is severely problematic as it means that most authentic news writers are forced to write in their spare time. Undertaking meaningful work under such limited circumstances is no easy task, and means that many of the people who write news tend to be from privileged backgrounds. The reliance upon such privilege makes it hard for the producers of news to be truly representative of the public they seek to write about. It is of utmost importance, therefore, that readers begin to financially support such alternative endeavours so they can employ writers from all walks of life.

It is true that real newspapers cannot easily compete with the financial clout of corporate freepapers, but it is still possible to create meaningful publications that can contribute to envisaging alternative political vistas. However, if these newspapers are to engender democratic values that strive to represent all points of views, it is essential that they are not free. Democratic non-corporate newspapers, and not so-called freepapers, are the way forward. This means that we must start paying a reasonable price for the journalism we value, and should continue to strive to create newspapers that provide content that is relevant to the democratic needs of the public, not the anti-democratic needs of the corporate world.