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November 17, 2015


Shortly after the Paris attacks on Friday, I flipped on the TV and saw that Fox 25 was feeding Fox News live during its normal evening entertainment slot. I was not surprised to find that News Corp HQ was taking full advantage of Americans’ understandable outrage about the tragic slaughter of more than 100 innocent people to foment hysteria against immigrants, refugees, Muslims and any other convenient target in the service of a raft of hard-right policy agendas. From calls to shut all European and American borders against people fleeing the horrific Syrian civil war, to demands that government increase surveillance and expand military and police budgets.

All par for the course. Fox will be Fox after all.

But that’s not what bugged me in this case. What bugged me was that the rest of the major American news media was not much better than Fox in its early reportage of the Paris crisis, and that we do not have a mass independent news media representing the positions of the broad left (and much of the populace) in this country: democracy, equality, peace, human rights, and social justice.

There are many interesting “humane and sane” independent news projects around the US—like theBoston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism that I’m helping organize. They’re just not large enough to reach masses of people during periods when global politics is fast-moving and when—as with this latest crisis—reactionary demagogues are given days of constant exposure to rehearse their racist colonialist Islamophobic fantasies unchallenged to audiences of millions on Fox and allied outlets. Which means that News Corp succeeds in pulling public discourse far to the right in the absence of major outlets willing to confront them when it matters most. The comedian journalists of The Daily Show excepted.

The politics of major American news organizations—conservative protestations to the contrary—now generally run from right to center. With editorial lines that are beholden to the rich and powerful. There are a few large outlets like the Boston Globe that lean left in select political economic and cultural debates, but they are slow to challenge powerful government officials and corporate leaders in dangerous moments like this (and the run-up to various recent imperial wars, the railroading of numerous anti-democratic “trade” treaties like NAFTA since the early 1990s, the defeat of several landmark global warming treaties in the same period, etc., etc.).

In many other countries, however, the media spectrum is much broader. There are mass news media of the left, right, and center. The left press is fairly large, influential, and far more likely to be critical of elite responses to political crises like the Daesh (ISIS) orchestrated killings in Paris. And to inspire their audiences to act politically to prevent such crises from being used by the hard right as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties or rush headlong into armed hostilities. Especially, as with the Syrian civil war, when a multinational conflict and related refugee crisis is already ongoing.

This independent progressive news media has often been funded by donations from trade unions, non-governmental organizations, protest movements and—significantly—by subscribers who are sometimes organized into consumer co-operatives. Employees may also hold a stake in such publications through employee co-operatives. Examples of this kind of progressive mass independent news outlet include Die Tageszeitung in Germany and WOZ Die Wochenzeitung in Switzerland. There are others like Dagbladet Information in Denmark that have more traditional ownership arrangements.

But there has been nothing like these major news publications of the left in the US since the weeklyAppeal to Reason folded in 1922 and the NYC daily PM folded in 1948. Even the smaller city-based alternative weeklies that were founded in the 1960s and 1970s—like the Boston Phoenix—have been in rolling collapse for some time.

Working on BINJ, and having run the left-wing metro news weekly Open Media Boston for seven years before that, I have no doubt that there is more than enough talent in cities like Boston to build the kind of professional mass progressive news operations that this country desperately needs if we are going to remain a democracy in the coming decades.

The question is: Will the remaining progressive institutions with deep enough pockets to bankroll such major news operations step forward while there’s still time? The labor unions, the major nonprofit community organizations, the progressive businesses, religious denominations, foundations and wealthy donors. And will you—the audience that agrees we need such a left news media complex—step forward and donate to projects like BINJ, and to consortia of such projects?

I hope so. At BINJ, we’d like to work with any institution or organization that is forward-thinking enough to see the need for a mass progressive news media. And that is willing to put their money where their aspirations are. Email me at jason@binjonline.org to start that conversation today.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.