Subscribing To Democracy

We can all agree that at this day and age of technology’s progress and the Internet, the average user’s attention span is ever narrowing down. In the same time, the availability and variety of information flows are overwhelming. For millions of citizens, democracy remains hidden behind a subscription.

Apart from keeping the populace informed, the media has and equally and sometimes even bigger responsibility to keep the checks and balances on the government and its officials. And while the latter encompasses a vast area of official and private information about the officials (some of it crossing moral grounds), it is still a necessity to offer a sort of accountability if someone chooses to exploit one’s position.

Establishing and maintaining a good media outlet is often a gargantuan and very costly endeavour. Newspapers, magazine and even websites spring to life and very often disappear just as fast, well before they got the chance to build an audience enough to sustain their model or fully develop their idea and course of events coverage.

Among other revenue source models, subscriptions and advertising are what established media and newcomers often resort to keep the cash flowing. This type of patronage seems to be a bit of a challenge when readers and viewers expect everything on the Internet, air or cable to be free. Some time ago it started picking up, though.

Unless you live under a pretty large rock, you have already learned about Trump’s administration’s attempts to bully major news outlets into making them like everything US government officials say or do. Trump’s will to put the press on a tight leash is nothing new, really. The Nazis succeeded in doing so. So, did the communists before and after them, And a known number of dictators and Eastern European “democracies”.

Checks and balances are not equally spread around the globe. In more cases, the press is under government influence, rather than being the one holding the latter accountable. This is how the game is played because civilisations and society deem the press’ role unimportant or simply do not care.

Up until the attacks Trump’s administration launched against what I call “the responsible media”, I have relied vastly on getting my information from free sources – social media, media that does not ask for a subscription to read, and the limited access to material published by sources asking for “Subscribe to read more”. My experience as a Bulgarian citizen, my ten years living in China and a few books on media history. I have read taught me not to trust big media outlets. Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” certainly didn’t add bright colours to my picture.

I have recently realised that governmental influence and manipulations (voluntary and involuntary) should not stop me from reading and definitely not thinking. At times, the indiscretions should not be a reason for me to completely discard The New York Times, Washington Post and their likes. On the contrary, the quality reads I have experienced on their platforms were overwhelmingly better and more professional than most of the stuff I have read elsewhere.

I need to read longer than two lines of materials or snaps on Twitter. I need to read well-investigated and backed up with facts, cross-checks and clear writing pieces of information.

But I needed a subscription. A costly subscription. Something that will set me back with at least 80€/year. And this is only if I go for only one. Initially, I focused my attention on The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Washington Post. And while benchmarking content, offers and prices, I noticed how challenging is even for a middle-class income household to keep itself informed with a quality press.

The New Yorker’s subscription plans start at “12 weeks for 12.00 USD”. The New Your Times starts at 5.50 EUR per month for the first year and then almost doubles after that. The Washington Post bags at least 12.00 USD/month or 120 USD for the first year.  And these are all offers for new subscribers. Naturally, all three media platforms will be cashing in after the first year. Normally, people forget to monitor or even cancel the subscription.

But let’s do look at major European press and the cost of their subscription, too.

In Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung starts at 19.99 EUR/month, Die Welt at 9.99 EUR/month, and Frankfurter Allgemeine 44.90 EUR/month (yes, this last one did surprise me, too). Le Monde asks for at least 24.90 EUR/month, Le Figaro asks for 8.90 EUR/month for the first month and Le Parisien at 9,99 EUR/month. The Guardian is for free in the UK, but it does ask for 19.99 USD/month if you want premium content and use their app. One can also support their journalistic effort with 5 USD/month. The Telegraph runs at 8.67 GBP/month and The Independent at 149.99 GBP/year.

Wow, what diversity in pricing strategies! Some offer access to information cheaply, others not so much.

But here is the thing… How many people will be willing to pay the toll fees or can actually afford it?

Quality journalism is expensive. Investigating journalism is even more. Exposing contacts between a nominated and elected president’s staff with a foreign adversary cannot be cheap. So are the stories about the German secret services spying on other governments, journalist and public figures. And what about the extensive coverage of the candidates in the French presidential elections this year?

Simultaneously, the quality differentiates tremendously between the paid information sources and the ones that offer everything for free. The tone, the fact checks, the professionalism and the ethics are mostly as different as the colours black and white.

The media holds the power of forming a public opinion to a big extend. Before elections, and after them, citizens decide about the vote choice based on the information supplied. Many do not have more time than the one they allocated to read a website, the article a friend has shared on her timeline on Facebook, something that a popular person shared on Twitter, etc.

The chances of one stumbling on a “fake news” are increasing every day mostly because they are free.  There are also other factors in play here – IQ, money, agenda, to name just a few. But nonetheless, this is the situation nowadays.

Subscriptions to newspapers and other media resources should not serve as a roadblock obstructing citizens’ access to solid, fact-checked, and professionally written informational pieces. At the same time, media outlets should support themselves and their efforts and make a profit (yes, this is how the economy works).

In an ideal world, intelligent human beings will be subscribing for a fair low price that satisfies both the publisher and the reader. In the real world, this is not the case, and democracy suffers. Mostly in the Western World.

I have decided that quality reads are more important to me than the 7.80 EUR/month I pay The New Your Times to give me access pretty much all their current content and archives. At the same time, I am making a stand and supporting a media that the USA president and his staff claim to be “the opposition party”. I am proactively opting for democracy by contributing to keeping governments accountable.

Checks and balances are vital for democracy. Let’s never forget that. Just subscribe to democracy.

Copyright © 2017 Borislav Kiprin. All Rights Reserved.