Journalism, particularly local journalism, is in trouble. The problems are financial (such as advertisers shying away from placing ads near news stories about the coronavirus), political (with institutions across the ideological spectrum surveilling and attacking reporters), and even existential (with the increasing consolidation of news operations under a few massive media brands). If you listen to The New York Times’s flagship podcast The Daily, you’re likely to be very familiar with the repeat advertising messages from Times staffers, pleading with listeners to subscribe to the paper. As these messages indicate, the single most effective way to support a publication is to provide a consistent financial outlay. But not everyone can afford that – especially now, in the grip of a recession. This isn’t a comprehensive list of ways to support journalists, but here are nine relatively easy methods for the cash-strapped to support news-makers and opinion-shapers.
1) Spend Time With Their Articles
This probably sounds thuddingly obvious. But for online journalism, page views and time spent per page help publications to understand which topics resonate with readers, which stories to keep commissioning, and sometimes which journalists to reward more. If, like me, your usual approach to reading a web article is to race through it like you’re a ruggedly sexy adventurer sprinting off a collapsing bridge, I feel you. But slowing down and really digesting the content not only brings out the value of the reporting; it also translates into better web analytics stats, which can have practical benefits for reporters.
Example: Some articles that merit a good, satisfying engagement are the longreads of Rest of World, which covers global technology.
2) Share the Articles
You might be an old-school newsprint clipper or a link-copying fiend. Either way, sending strong stories to people you know, or sharing them on social media, naturally helps them gain more reach.
Example: For the days when you just need a wee break from news articles basically screaming “Fires! Fires everywhere!,” the Good News subreddit is a soothing balm. As the name suggests, it’s a space where people share stories about things that don’t make them want to crawl into the nearest womb.
3) Write a Letter to the Editor
This can seem like a charmingly quaint practice, like churning butter or calling someone spontaneously. But letters to the editor don’t have to be actual pen-and-paper letters. Nor do they have to be long. A simple acknowledgment of the value of a story you’ve read recently, or the sharing of an opinion that moves the conversation along, can lead to more eyeballs on the story, as well as more chin-stroking from the editors. Many major magazines and newspapers have letters editors, whose contact details you can find online or in the printed publication.
4) Write Constructive Comments
Probably everyone has read a comment below an article that made them want to weep operatically for the callous state of humankind. Comment sections are particular cesspools for articles written by women, queer people, and non-white people. Where comment sections still exist under moderation, the work can be traumatic for often-underpaid comment moderators. Writing a thoughtful response, whether on a comment section or on social media, helps drown out the callous-state-of-humankind sort.
Example: The investigation-focused website The Intercept has aimed for a civil comment section. Of course this isn’t perfect, and co-founder Glenn Greenwald has had an acrimonious breakup with The Intercept. But the site suggests that not all comment sections are equally soul-crushing.
5) Clap Back Against Attackers
There’s a fine line between feeding the trolls and providing a useful defense. But if a journalist is being unfairly slammed, it can be very helpful for reasonable readers to go ahead and slam those slammers. Obviously plenty of articles are execrable and don’t deserve to be praised or defended. But when a strong argument and solid reporting are being deliberately twisted by hateful people, sympathetic bystanders can intervene. It may not feel as heroic as rescuing a child from a burning car, but a brief tweet pointing out the illogic of a reply guy is still a kind of 21st century gallantry.
Example: The International Federation of Journalists has some useful resources on countering online trolling.
6) Click on Ads and Affiliate Links
I admit, this one makes me queasy. I hate ads with an outsized passion. But strong click-through stats make online for-profit publications more valuable to potential advertisers. And if you need a particular product anyway, clicking on the product link in an article can earn a tiny commission for the publication.
Example: Why, the very page you’re looking at has book ads. You may have found these annoying, but they keep the lights on and the publication going.
7) Email Journalists to Let Them Know You Appreciate Their Work
I feel very comfortable making the following sweeping generalization: journalists love to get emails from readers thanking them for their work. They may not have the time or headspace to reply. But a two-minute email from a kind reader can really elevate a day past the all-too-common trifecta of drudgery, rejection, and frustration.
Example: I admit that I don’t do this as often as I should. But I was moved to email Susan Rinkunas after reading her terrific Marie Claire article about the importance of teleabortion. (I was impressed at how quickly she’d managed to incorporate a recent Supreme Court decision restricting shipments of abortion pills.)
8) Find and Support Their Other Work
Just about every freelance journalist, and many a staffer as well, has to have at least one side gig or day job to get by. Maybe your favorite newshound offers content marketing services, sells scented soy candles on Etsy, does pro bono work for an environmental charity no one’s ever heard of, or hosts a podcast that will startle you with the dissonance between how you imagined their voice and what they actually sound like. Search out their newsletters on Substack, their books on their websites, and their passion projects on Patreon.
Example: Tech writer Rosalie Chan also sends out an excellent newsletter called True Colors, which collects journalism from women of color.
9) Advocate for Press Freedom
Globally, the decline in press freedom is worrying. Of course there are risks in certain countries of criticizing repressive laws, but where feasible, it can be useful to add your voice to calls for media rights.
Example: Many press freedom organizations ask for donations to support their work. But individuals without financial means can help in other ways, for instance by signing petitions and amplifying the campaigns of the Committee to Protect Journalists.