Monday, May 28, 2012

Will subscription fees keep public informed on critical environmental news?


It finally happened. I couldn’t read an article on a major Rochester, NY online media source because I didn’t pay the new subscription fee. Of course, I could pay the subscription fee but then why should I? (I know, to a free market fundamentalist just thinking this is heresy.)

Yet, why should I pay for a subscription to a local media when I can get all the available environmental information that this media, or any local media, puts out by surfing to the same places they do--Environmental Protection Agency; Genesee Transportation Council - Newsletter; Press Releases - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation; Newsroom | Governor ; Monroe County : City of Rochester; Office of the New York State Attorney General; New York State Department of Health; New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Press Releases; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Not to mention the hundreds of surrounding news services that aren’t charging.

Let’s face it; the news ain’t what it used to be. Just ask Dan Rather, the former news anchor for the CBS Evening News.:

“During his appearance on “Real Time,” he discussed how in a media environment owned by a handful of giant corporations, the news has become “politicized” and “trivialized.” The only interests that get served are those of the corporations, he said, not those of the journalists trying to report the news, and certainly not the interests of the audience watching at home.” Dan Rather to Maher: Corporate media consolidation is politicizing and trivializing journalism | The Raw Story

Actually, there’s a lot of reasons why paying for online environmental news that used to be free is not a good idea. First, instead of paying investigative reporters a living wage and ferreting out environmental stories we need to know, media corporations simply take that money and consolidate. That’s why Rochester, which used to host a lot of newspapers like most cities in the US, now has only a few. This endless consolidations for more corporate profits has made for less real news, less investigative reporting, more about what we don’t need to know and less about what we do. Second, the free market fundamentalists have been attacking Public Broadcasting System by trying to rob them of their public funding so they can fill our radio waves with more hate and our TV bandwidths with more nonsense paraded as news.

I get the fact that many traditional media are collapsing because advertising dollars are going elsewhere, like the Internet. But that is not the only reason. Many mainstream media are dying because instead of offering the public the kind of news they need to sustain a healthy Democracy and environment, they fill their front pages with sport scores, pet issues, corporate denial on Climate Change, and a zillion other things that pander to the public’s prurient interests, instead of stuff they need to know.

For example, our local media could be talking about fortifying our combined sewer systems to provide more resiliency as Climate Change brings more frequent overflows—like Buffalo is doing: City unveils pilot program to ease burden on sewer system - City of Buffalo - The Buffalo News. They could investigate whether the recent 48 Hour Neighborhood Notification Law is being complied with. They could find out if the City of Rochester or Monroe County is working on Climate Action plans. Or they could find out if the public health department is preparing for a possible heat wave that might be coming because Climate Change has made this year a very warm year--prepared in the sense of providing shelter from the blistering heat for all who may need it. Prepared, in the sense that our electrical grid can handle thousands turning on their AC for days and maybe weeks.

They could report on water quality as our region warms up, or whether our local nuclear plant is ready to cope with warmer water for fuel rod cooling. They could report on the recycling rate in Monroe County and find out if we are below (like Buffalo) or above the national average. They could pour through the many Climate studies and connect the dots between local changes and predicted Climate changes. They could find out if our local education systems are adequately teaching our future voters the science of Climate Change, or teaching climate skepticism, in our schools. And on Fracking, instead of playing the role of a disinterested referee on this issue, our local media could be asking this question: Why is New York State even considering Fracking considering the renewable alternatives (that also produce jobs) and the potential danger to our fresh water? Why continually assume that corporate fossil fuel needs are equal to the public’s needs?

The truth is that our present media is failing us, and free market fundamentalism won’t save it. You cannot get blood from a stone; you cannot expect graduates overburdened by college debt to subscribe to more debt. You cannot get subscription dollars from pensioners who fear some budget-balancing nitwit stealing their promised income amid sky-rocketing health insurance costs.

Besides, there are too many other choices for free news—blogs, email news lists, social media, news apps that aggregate news from around the world, public broadcasting, and movements to get back some of the public radio and TV bandwidths that has been gobbled up by corporate greed.

This would all be great except that a lot of this free news is not local and much of it doesn’t come from professionals. News organizations of the past are starving for dollars while the public is starving for useful information as our economy cools down and our environment warms up.

The answer to the problem of getting information to the public is not going to be solved by more subscription fees to get less useful information.

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