The dangers of independent journalism

A statue of Justitia

That journalists are incentivised to become their own brands is not a new development. Back then it lead to lucrative television gigs, now you can launch a newsletter and a career on Youtube.

It’s also often the only option left if you want to be in journalism. Buzzfeed News is gone, Vice is gone, Gawker is gone and their replacements are SEO content mills that barely do actual reporting. So it’s great to see new start-ups like 404 media and Aftermath deliver good, insightful work every week.

In the newest episode of Aftermath Hours Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier said something important when asked if he ever considered going independent: He likes to have a lawyer. And this, more than anything else, is the reason why it’s important to have large media corporations investing in good journalism.

I’ve been doing this job for seven years and while it doesn’t happen often, there was more than one occasion where the people I reported on threatened to sue the publications that released my work. It’s a well known tactic called a SLAPP suit and while they are easy to win, you need the funding to actually fight them. Something a single individual doesn’t have.

That’s also why I understand, that a lot of reporters were hesitant to leave Substack after the platform took their pro-nazi stance. Substack promised to cover the lawyers, if the newsletter writes ever got sued. They also paid for health insurance – two things, that are essential for great journalism to exist.

Reporting facts will get you in trouble at some point in your career. It’s basically impossible to avoid. And the knowledge that this could ruin you life will influence the way you approach a subject.

Most newsletter writers and Youtubers are not wealthy enough to actually fight a fraudulent lawsuit. So as much as i appreciate the work a lot of them do. I don’t think independent publishing by individuals will solve journalism’s problems.

In an ideal world this wouldn’t be a problem. There would be a collective fund basically like the one Substack provided, that allows a person to freely report facts to the best of their abilities. But this fund doesn’t exist and in this current landscape of underfunded journalism basically can’t exist.

So the future of journalism has to be publishers. I want to see newsletter writers and Youtubers to form collectives, to pool resources and create places like 404 and Aftermath. Because this is the only way i see to guarantee an actual freedom of the press.

Oh and also we need to abolish billionaires. Because Gawker Media, an actually well funded publishing company, was taken down because Peter Thiel was unhappy. This is a power no individual should have over reporters.

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