Day 127: Begging for survival

Day 127: Begging for survival

Monday, May 8, 2017

When was the last time you tuned in to something, not knowing what it was going to be, having no idea of the agenda, but having absolute faith that you would be entertained, inspired, and given a broader perspective of the world?

Shows such as Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Gods of America don’t count: those shows are on-demand, and you’re only aware of them because you saw a headline quoted by a friend who follows an entertainment blogger who parroted a press release written by a studio publicist who is paid to market the show.

I’m talking about shows that feed your mind, make you feel connected with the world, remind you that there are numerous fascinating issues without solutions that go far beyond our personal biases of spirituality and politics.

Three years ago, the series producer of Q&A told me she believed there is a real hunger for that kind of material, and it’s a conversation that haunts me to this day because I’ve yet to see real evidence of it.

Here’s the thing that no one from Fairfax wants to hear: it is beyond saving. Six years ago, it had more than 1,000 editorial staff across several floors. Today, it has around 500 on a single floor. When the newest cuts are finalised, there will be about 375.

Fairfax is done. Whatever its employees are trying to preserve was done years ago. The smart ones got out a long time ago and found elsewhere not just gainful employment, but fulfilling, stress-free, and even prosperous employment.

But not in journalism.

Which brings me back to my original question. My favourite shows right now are all podcasts by NPR, PRX, and Gimlet Media; shows such as Reveal, Science Vs, On The Media, Reply All, and Stuff You Should Know.

Every one of these shows is, at some level, struggling. They are always topped and tailed with an impassioned plea for support from its listeners either through donations or an incentivised subscription model. The Guardian Australia has a message like this at the bottom of its page. I’ve even seen such messages from individual journalists, too; Australian journalists who have set up de facto crowd-funding pages for themselves.

It’s a message I’m beginning to see and hear with greater frequency.

In fundraising, we call such messages a ‘case for support’, which in this instance is to support quality journalism… but that’s not what it really is.

They are too proud to say it, so I will say it for them: they are begging for their survival.

Because if their brand of storytelling disappears, all we’ll be left with is a world that wants us to consume.

And when we’re finished consuming everything the marketers want us consume (and, let’s be honest, that’s all they want us to do), will we have achieved anything worthwhile?

I’m afraid I don’t have any answers, because I know the system well enough not to throw money at the problem.

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