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The Slow Death of Journalism is Endangering Our Democracy

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Until somebody figures out how to fix the way we fund media, it’s up to all of us to ensure it continues to exist. (Courtesy photo)

This originally appeared in my Broke-Ass City column in the San Francisco Examiner.

Sometimes, I sit down to write my column knowing exactly what I’m going say. (The one about Salesforce Tower looking like a butt plug immediately comes to mind.) I was giddy when I began writing that column. Other times, I sit down and start typing and just kind of see what happens. Some pretty great things have come from that as well.

Every once in awhile, though, I throw things out on Facebook and Twitter and ask folks what they want to read about. The answers I get are a of mixture jokes, really good ideas and people saying, “Hey write about the ____ thing that I do.” Here are just a few from when I asked this week:

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– “The booming comedy scene in S.F.”

– “How S.F. has no interest in keeping its black community.”

– “People who don’t clean up after their dog.”

All of these could be really great topics. The issue is that for the heavier stuff, like “How S.F. has no interest in keeping its black community,” it would take many hours of interviews and research for which I wouldn’t get paid. That’s not to say that I won’t do that on occasion, but the fee I get per article makes it less likely.

This is by no means meant to seem like I’m dragging The Examiner. I totally get it. I run a media company of my own and know just how difficult it is to keep the lights on and pay people. I wish I could pay the writers at what the Examiner pays me. The issue at hand is that the way media is funded, from music to writing to photography, is entirely broken, and nobody has figured out how to fix it.

Historically, publications have been funded by a mixture of paid subscriptions and advertising. But with the rise of the internet, people have become so used to getting all media for free that they balk at the idea of paying for anything. This causes publications to then focus more on getting advertisers, which worsens the reading experience, causing people to then complain about the amount of ads in a newspaper or on a website.

In response, a number of publications have begun asking their readers to pitch in a one-time or a monthly donation. The Guardian UK is a great example of this. They’ve got a bar at the bottom of their articles asking people to donate. I’ve actually done the same thing with I’ve started a Patreon page where people can become monthly supporters, and help keep the site running, while getting rad perks for doing so. There’s a donate button on the navigation bar that leads people there.

At this point, we get around $2700 a month from our Patrons. Considering the site costs about $4,500 a month to run, it certainly helps, but we’ve got a long way to go. (By all means, please help out!)

At this point in time, good, smart and honest media is as important as ever, but it’s being funded less and less. The New York Times and The Washington Post are doing absolutely stellar jobs in digging up the nefarious doings of the Trump Administration and they are doing it with newsrooms half as full as the days of Watergate. Yet, readers still roll their eyes when they see a paywall. The San Francisco Examiner itself is doing fantastic work to hold a mirror to those in power in the Bay Area. Remember, the Examiner was the first to break the Ed Lee/Shrimp Boy scandal.

A healthy democracy can’t exist without a thriving media to keep it honest and hold it accountable. Media can’t do this without financial support. So until somebody figures out how to fix the way we fund media, it’s up to all of us to ensure it continues to exist.

Subscribe to papers doing investigative journalism. Donate to online publications whose work you value. Even if you just pick one and give it $5 or $10 a month, you’ll be doing your part to keep our world both entertained and informed. Do it now while you still can.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.