people with little power or authority at work or when acting as citizens
October 13, 2021 9:33 AM   Subscribe

I want a prominent media home that reflects our size and heterogeneity. I want stories about wealth as opposed to income inequality and its effect on intergenerational and social mobility. I want stories that aren’t just about our problems, but that are also told by, for, and with us. We are civic participants who matter. I want us to set the terms of debate. What could the political effects be of a media that actually served working-class Americans?
posted by sciatrix (22 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mainstream (and by mainstream I mean what's available on CATV and newsstands) media is controlled by large corporations, and no matter if they present themselves as conservative or liberal, corporations are incapable of acting in the interest of anybody other than large shareholders. It's not an outlandish conspiracy theory to state that all these media outlets want the working class to be ground down, bled dry and discarded.

Electing insane conservatives to government who will dismantle and devalue our civic institutions benefits these media companies, no matter if they are MSNBC or Fox, it's all the same goals.
posted by kzin602 at 9:38 AM on October 13 [9 favorites]


cw: there's a fairly abrupt use of an anti-Black racial slur in a presumably re-appropriative way in the second *section
posted by paimapi at 10:40 AM on October 13 [5 favorites]


her philosophical assertion is powerful and I hope more journos hear it. but when I think of the pipeline for the authors of local news, I think about how all they really do is to reprint or paraphrase some orgs' press release, something that's especially evident when you start looking for HR-speak phrases like 'officier involved shooting' (or, translated, a cop murdered or maimed someone).

the savvy grassroots organizers that I know in ATL have all built up media contacts over time, and a lot of that's because they know the norms of the fourth estate - they have Twitter, they know when to snark and when to be serious, they schedule interviews and releases a week+ in advance, have email addresses of local reporters saved and in use, tone-police themselves so as to not look uncouth, no matter how justifiable their anger might be, go out of their way to put people in contact with one another, etc.

there's a level of what you could call 'professional etiquette' at play here (ie white, middle-class, Protestant mannerisms) that shuts out swathes of people and advantages the institutions who can pay for someone to keep on top of those norms, build those contacts, calendar everything accordingly, and write 'professional' releases well in advance

outside of unions and the grassroots org, the former of which is being rapidly dismantled by a conservative judicial project, the latter of which very rarely can pay anyone anything, I don't know how you would even surface working class stories except to rely on the goodwill of journos who are themselves removed culturally and socially from the working class. the fact that every rag nowadays won't hire someone without a college degree is a big part of this, and not something I see going away until an actual revolution comes
posted by paimapi at 11:08 AM on October 13 [13 favorites]


I have a couple observations. First, I think a lot of the main stream media thinks they are trying to help the working man and woman. They write constantly about the harm done by one percenters and tenth of one percenters. They write about minimum wage. They write about the working poor. More in the line of your thinking, as I understand you, they write about the small business owner.

There is a wide spectrum in social media, but there are places where people with like interests can get together and be way more specific about issues than a general news site could ever be. Whether it's musicians or chefs or whatever, there is a place all about it on the internet.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:10 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]


Whether it's musicians or chefs or whatever, there is a place all about it on the internet.

but those are contained communities - the point of the article, I think, is how little these lived experiences and realities are relayed out to the public inside of a democratic system that favors majority views

you can have a self-contained subreddit of service sector workers with some of the Twitterati cherry picking stories on occasion but that's still effectively a gate on the kinds of stories that get surfaced and made politically feasible to move on. the author writes about how journos need to adopt the working class anger and the bottom-up perspective as a corrective for this
posted by paimapi at 11:16 AM on October 13 [5 favorites]


I won't dispute her argument that as a society we "need" a working-class media, but I guess I'm a bit unsure how we fill that need, and exactly what a media focused on filling that need successfully would look like.

I suspect the editorial boards of Mother Jones or Jacobin probably think of their publications as "working-class media", if perhaps less firey than Murphy might want. But I get the impression both are probably running at or near the edge of economic viability; the parent organization of MJ already seems to subsist in large part on MacArthur Foundation grants. Jacobin seems to largely be the passion project of one guy.

I guess my question, put differently, is: is a news outlet focused on "people who, when they go to work or when they act as citizens, have comparatively little power or authority" something that can exist in our world without external support? And if not, where does that support come from that doesn't give it a self-interested blind spot?
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:44 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]


While I appreciate the goal the author has in mind, I don't know quite what they think they are asking for. I mean it doesn't appear to be news exactly, more like advocacy, as if the Nation were to broadcast daily and actually be popular or something. There's a number of problems with that vision as it does basically require an educated elite to cover those topics in an accurate way, not necessarily college educated, but people with a background in the relevant areas, reporting and other production elements. That isn't the same thing as just talking to the working class and covering their perspectives and interests as those often conflict with the kind of class values the essay suggests or are uniformed on details if broadly in some agreement.

Certainly this may be said to have come in part from mass media, but that still is pushing an agenda in saying how the working class should otherwise get their news, in ways they haven't really shown much inclination towards doing. I mean there have been left wing publications for more than a century that are easy to get if you want them or just different outlets for news and entertainment that are out there but not very popular compared to celeb driven news and the like. So there is an aspect of this that may be trying to put the cart before the horse or based in an assumptions on the working class that are up for some debate or just pushing for advocacy demand be damned.

There's also a bit of a weird feel to complaining about reporters being out of touch for making too much, when that is the goal for everyone, to make a good wage. The kind of work involved in reporting deserves pay, being a popular broadcast would deserve additional recompense in anything like the current system, so if the broadcast being called for is popular, then pay should be high so once again there is some suggestion of a sort of elite willing to stay in touch with working class values and advocate for them despite not really being a part of that class, or for them not to take the pay they'd be due by operating outside the regular media boundaries in some way or something else I'm not quite following, but it doesn't feel like that element is given much consideration, just griped about as an issue. Again though none of this is to argue against some of the desired ends, advocacy or no, but to say I'm not sure the path is made very clear in the essay.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:03 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]


I enjoyed the linked article, thanks, sciatrix.

I've been checking out Means.tv, the "first worker-owned, post-capitalist streaming service." $10/month or $110/year subscription, but they say if that's beyond your budget, contact them. If it gets traction maybe we'll see ripple effects from a media outlet that actually does serve working-class Americans.

Free samples include Episode 1 of Laughter Against The Machine, following W. Kamau Bell and Nato Green on tour, and Episode 1 of The Trillbillies ("Extraction Capitalism," with two Kentucky Appalachian locals showing & telling how fast capitalism reduces a mountain range to dust with mountaintop removal mining). And Preserving Worlds is by mefi's own One Second Before Awakening.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:16 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


It used to be that "journalist" was a trade (not a profession) and you got to be one by doing it, sometimes straight out of high school. If you went to college, State U was fine.

Now, "journalist" is a "profession" that you don't get into without finishing a 4-year degree, preferably from HYPS, followed by some years of internships with no or nugatory compensation. "Working-class journalism" is a big ask, given who gets to be a journalist these days.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 2:20 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


"Now" isn't exactly accurate. Even 30 years ago, you couldn't* get hired unless you had a journalism degree--not an English degree or some other B.A. or B.A.A. It was journalism or nothing. These days, a Master's is becoming much more common.

As for journalists making too much, that's really not what's happening. A few well-known people make good money. There's a lot more slagging away at just above minimum wage, or earning something that's on the border of working-class and middle-class wages. That is for the people left working as journalists, and who weren't laid off or forced to quit because they couldn't live on the poor wages or burned out and left the profession because they literally couldn't churn out any more content any quicker.

*Yes, there are always exceptions, but in general, it's been that way for a long time.
posted by sardonyx at 3:04 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


I have a couple observations. First, I think a lot of the main stream media thinks they are trying to help the working man and woman. They write constantly about the harm done by one percenters and tenth of one percenters. They write about minimum wage. They write about the working poor.


*blinks*
posted by moorooka at 3:54 PM on October 13


Mainstream (and by mainstream I mean what's available on CATV and newsstands) media is controlled by large corporations, and no matter if they present themselves as conservative or liberal, corporations are incapable of acting in the interest of anybody other than large shareholders. It's not an outlandish conspiracy theory to state that all these media outlets want the working class to be ground down, bled dry and discarded.

Just curious... do you actually know anyone who works for one of those mainstream media outlets? Because, yeah, it is kind of an outlandish conspiracy theory you're putting forward.

I know many people in media. None of them have that goal. Most of them are, to some extent or another, socially progressive. Many are economically progressive. To the extent I know people in management-level positions at media companies (and I don't know any super-well, but I am acquainted with a few), they do not seem to be on board with those goals either.

I'm not saying the mainstream media are, collectively, doing an adequate job of covering social and economic issues and the plight of the poor and working class in America. Some media orgs only pay lip service to those issues; others are indifferent; some definitely have obviously retrograde goals.

But just glibly stating that all of them share the goal of the destruction of the working class is ridiculous.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 4:27 PM on October 13 [7 favorites]


Great article, thanks sciatrix.
posted by Rash at 8:19 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]


About 25 years ago, I got into journalism with no degree at all, and I got to one of the country's top 20 newspapers.

I did have to remind my colleagues sometimes that not everyone goes to college, among other things. For example, they would write annual stories about the job market for new graduates, when they meant only new college graduates.
posted by NotLost at 6:33 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Now, "journalist" is a "profession" that you don't get into without finishing a 4-year degree, preferably from HYPS,

I had never even heard of "HYPS" before this. Journalists come from a variety of schools. And the top schools aren't considered to be Yale or Harvard, but more like Medill at Northwestern, Columbia and Missouri.
posted by NotLost at 6:55 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


There's also a bit of a weird feel to complaining about reporters being out of touch for making too much, when that is the goal for everyone, to make a good wage.

The issue isn't about how much journalists are paid now, but about their background, experiences, and knowledge. What kind of education and/or pay did their parents have? Do they have friends and relatives in working-class jobs, do they know what a banana costs, have they (to quote Pulp) "watched the roaches climb the wall" WITHOUT knowing that someone could stop it all?

Class is a weird mix of experience and culture - and I say this as someone who lives at the intersection of working/poor and middle class. I have the economic background of someone who grew up on a low income, and I still spend like a poor person (and have never seen a Kate Spade handbag, let alone purchased one). But I don't have the (quite) the same cultural background because my family also has more experience with higher education than most working class people. I would never claim, for example, to be a good person to represent or speak for working class people without formal education; I don't belong to that culture.

Nuances aside, media and politics is woefully lacking in people who don't just know how much a banana costs, but how much all of the groceries cost, because they've done those calculations for most of their lives. It does make a difference in what stories are covered and how people think about them. In my city, our suburban councilors just voted to not legalize and regulate rooming houses in their neighbourhoods (they are there, of course, but illegally and thus completely without regulation or safety inspections). How many have ever visited a rooming house, let alone lived in one? Do they imagine that they or anyone they know will ever need to live in one? I may not have lived in one myself, but I am close with people who have.
posted by jb at 8:27 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


I know many people in media. None of them have that goal.

sure - and their editors? they are socially progressive and don't table stories they think won't get clicks? and what about their managers? and the executives? they don't have ties to things like police foundations, local politicians, etc? and their shareholders, how do they feel? what about the companies with major advertising deals with that network, that paper? there's going to be fair coverage of their wrongdoing?

it's disingenuous and kind of ridiculous to 'well there's good individuals' when the criticism is about a social issue, and there's been so many past cases of malfeasance that even it's own associations call out?

what a ridiculous, pathos-driven distraction this 'oh there's good guys' crap is
posted by paimapi at 11:06 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of problems with corporate-owned media, but incendiary statements like "all these media outlets want the working class to be ground down, bled dry and discarded" above, which Artifice_Eternity was responding to, are distractions from any discussion about how we might develop a more class-balanced and socially useful media ecosystem. A true problem is the click-based revenue model, which pushes even the most progressive journalists, editors, and media owners to chase engagement numbers over illumination. The issue of what drives views and clicks is the core of an important conversation about human nature we need to continue, rather than indulging in what are outlandish and irrelevant conspiracy theories.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:31 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


the mental gymnastics people will go through to tone-police a comment because it felt really rude to them is part of this 'professional etiquette' bullshit that prevents the interests of the working class from being elevated - everything must be nice, properly expressed, and if those fucking poors can't understand the need to not be rude to poor little major media corporations, they won't ever get anywhere. what they need is a academic economic analysis of the situation. in this essay, I will
posted by paimapi at 12:33 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Thank you to cybercoitus interruptus for mentioning Means TV and my series. Cortex told me that if I comment about politics any more on metafilter my account will be banned, so I'm going to avoid weighing in on the discussion about the systemic biases of media corporations.

I'd like to share more about Means TV though, as they are an excellent example of a working class media organization.

I do not come from money and I have no connections in the film industry. A friend and I collaborated on a feature-length documentary with a Kickstarted budget of $2,644, and it took us 5 years to finish it because we both work full-time jobs outside of filmmaking. When we finished, we managed to get into two festivals, but we had absolutely no luck getting distribution for a number of reasons: the film was shot on a $300 camera and you can kind of tell, we don't have any notoriety or connections with film distributors, the film is experimental and personal in a way that is not obviously marketable, and the film's politics could probably best be described as anarchist.

Means TV's startup capital came entirely from a ton of small donations (unlike most media companies, they raised no venture capital funding whatsoever). While they were raising that money, I heard of them from a guest appearance one of the founders made on a leftist podcast. He mentioned during the interview that they were looking for films to license, so I emailed them with a link to my film. I had emailed other distributors before and never received even a response. Means TV, however, actually gave my film a chance, liked it, and were willing to take a risk by licensing it. They even screened it at their launch event in NYC! I really don't think there's anyone else who would have given this film a chance, but it seems to have resonated with their audience. Since then, I have had the chance to participate in a number of the co-op's initiatives (one of the advantages of their worker-owned co-op structure), and I've even created an original series for them.

I have really enjoyed working with Means TV. Our audience at this time definitely skews toward those with an interest in leftist politics, but we are constantly expanding our library with not just explicitly political works, but also works created by and for the working class. It's a home for film and video that is absolutely worthy of peoples' time, but can not make it to more corporate platforms for thematic, political, budgetary, and logistical reasons.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 12:53 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


Interesting. I note the author makes reference to the relative comfort that the UK has with writing about class compared to the UK, by quoting someone writing in the Guardian. Which makes me wonder whether the goal is media written by the working class, or with a working class audience. Because the Guardian has occasional pieces written by or about the working class from an insiders perspective, but its audience is middle class and left of centre. On the other hand, the Sun and the Daily Mirror are perceived to have (quite politically different) working class audiences, but are mainly written by people from more privileged backgrounds. Perhaps the Mirror is something like what the author is thinking of, but it feels unlikely.
posted by plonkee at 1:08 PM on October 14


Here's more on the risk to all newsrooms, "A Secretive Hedge Fund is Gutting Newsrooms: Inside Alden Global Capital.
posted by PhineasGage at 7:55 AM on October 15


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