Why am I doing this?
You might be surprised / shocked / pissed to discover that modern day economics does not at all account for the role of money, the people who use it or the jobs which enable that spending.
It is no coincidence that we are witnessing the inexorable increase in social uprisings at a time of such great economic insecurity. People are scared. How are they meant to make decisions about how to spend: Whether to rent or buy, whether to salary sacrifice into Super or keep your whole pay-check, (sans tax), whether to study or work, to buy a car or take the bus, where do I live and where do I work? Do I freelance or work full-time? How are people meant to make even the most basic decisions about their lives if most of what they read and hear is informed by a policy which doesn’t take their financial lives into account?
You wouldn’t know it from reading the paper but our taxes don’t actually pay for anything at a federal level. I imagine a sentence like that is upsetting for some people to hear. Why are they taking away precious income if it doesn’t fucking fund anything? The answer is inflation but I understand your frustration. (Our taxes do fund things at a state and local level). But we are being duped into thinking the government needs our money before it can spend it and that is an outright falsehood. In fact the opposite is true. The government issues dollars so that we will spend them. If it stopped issuing dollars the system would grind to a halt.
This is why I am doing this: To help people identify rhetorical red flags and immunise themselves against a sea of bullshit. I don’t think it is simply enough to understand how we got here. Language is important. And if we do not begin to educate people how to decode coded language, we run the risk of voting or working against our own best interests. All because the words we heard mean something different to what we thought or were told they did. While a good idea should be assessed on its own merit, it is also important to understand that the same words can take on entirely different meanings depending on who is speaking. I hope that my work will help people decode the truth behind what is being said.
At a time when it is becoming harder and harder to get published, trust in media publications is at an all time low. And it is no wonder why. Headlines gleefully celebrating “25 years of unprecedented economic growth” disguise the fact that eight billionaires hold as much wealth as half of the world’s 7.2 billion people, according to the Financial Times. These headlines ignore the fact that said growth is occurring to a smaller and smaller fraction of the economy because an increasingly small group of individuals possess more of the world’s wealth
Failure to predict the Trump presidency and Brexit probably didn’t help either. Along with failure to see GFC coming despite an array of experts who were dismissed right up until it happened and then they were heralded and had movies made about them.
Research conducted by Edelman, the world’s largest public relations consultancy, found three-quarters of the 28 countries surveyed were categorised as “distrustful” of government, business, media and non-governmental organisations.
Trust in media plunged from 51 per cent to 43 per cent, an all-time low for the index, with the sharpest falls in Ireland, Australia, Canada and Colombia.
Australia is a country of 23.13 million people. America, 319 million people, the UK 64.1 million. Ninety-five per cent of those 406.23 million people will never factor into economic policy nor be regarded in economic theory. Not unless we begin to talk about the economy in real terms and to do that we must first understand how it works.
Money impacts everything. It impacts culture. It impacts status, class, race, gender. It is all driven by money: Who has it, who doesn’t, how they came to get it and how it should be spent.
I also worry about the long-term damage that is occurring for the sake of short-term ratings, the result of what happens when publications begin catering to particular audiences based on ideology. Thanks to social media, culture is already fragmenting and devolving into primitive high-tech tribalism. The Fourth Estate should be trying to unify instead of sowing dissent. But hot takes keeps the lights on and so we just keep on publishing op-ed after op-ed with hell to the consequences, as we slowly but surely chip away at the very foundations upon which democracy was built.
As Jay Rosen recently wrote in an excellent editorial for Nieman Lab which you should definitely read:
“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” Its lessons can be overdrawn, and some think it silly, but this phrase captures something about commercial media properties. You cannot trust them to be wholly on the side of their publics because they have another class of customers to worry about: the advertisers. Even if they are run with integrity and would never cave to an advertiser’s demands, a range of subtler distortions can creep in. Obvious example: clickbait. Less obvious: Pools of available ad money (food, real estate, cars) tend to spring up as editorial products (Grub Street, Curbed, Jalopnik).”
Think about news sites which rely heavily on real-estate advertising. At a time when private debt is soaring and a large portion of that is going into property, how can we trust that they will run content that is honest about the country’s economic future when we are already so over-invested in housing?
“There’s nothing inherently corrupt about this,” writes Rosen. Advertising is a system that can subsidise a lot of good work,” writes Rosen. “And every subsidy system has drawbacks, including membership. But if you’re doing public service journalism and trying to optimise for trust, it helps immensely to be free from the business of buying and selling people’s attention.”
Then there is the issue of voluntary and inadvertent censorship. Modern journalism for the most part, relies on a narrative, linear format. Don’t get me wrong, narrative journalism is important to telling a story. It has its place. But narrative journalism can also exclude a lot of information which prevents audiences from contextualising the bigger picture, to their detriment.
I approach my work from a much more conceptual, economical perspective which goes like this: Why is this a particular way? Why can’t it be different? What other ways could this be done? What are the obstacles to that? ← A glimpse inside my brain.
I want to prove there is a market for this kind of journalism. I want to demonstrate to publishers there is a different way to do things. And I would like to help develop metrics that can put a value on reader trust.
To put it bluntly: I realised that if you want something done right, you best do it yourself. If publications aren’t going to hire me to take this on, I’m not going to sit and wait for the phone to ring. I’d rather steal their audience and sell it back to them.
So that’s pretty much what I have been doing for the better part of six months. Everything I have pitched this year is the result of my research. That has been an effective way to buy me some time, but it only goes so far.
Until now I have never given a second thought to “data”. ‘A good story is a good story’, has always been my attitude. But all of a sudden I am in a position where it is not only important to quantify my audience, it is essential.
It is important to me that my readers are my number one constituency. It is the surest way to ensure accurate, well-researched, public interest journalism. Whether that means you are paying $10c or $4.50 a month (or whatever else you pay to independent journalists and creators like me), you are investing your trust in the person and your funds in the product. I take this responsibility seriously. Incidentally, your resources go a lot further when it’s not being distributed among middle management and administrative costs. It’s just me, my computer and my website.
No, I don’t expect to be able to ‘make a living’ out of 10 cent journalism, as someone on Twitter recently suggested. I didn’t setup my micro-payments experiment because I expected it to feed me. I am doing this to prove there are people willing to pay for good journalism, even if it is a token amount of money. It is about proof of concept, and proof of audience. I have a book and podcast to promote, not to mention countless other stories I’m working on with traditional publishers, and the mountain of commercial work I do to support myself. To do that I need a quantifiable audience who have already demonstrated at least a passing interest in my work.
If it fails, there are lessons to be gleaned from that also. But more than that, I’m beginning to believe that giving money to journalists directly facilitates a much more efficient style of journalism. When you buy a paper, or a subscription to a major news outlet, a good portion of that money goes into administration. Similarly when you’re buying advertising, less than a quarter of most sponsored / native budgets actually go into production. That isn’t to say that they don’t have their place but arguably there’s a potential for a greater impact between writer and audience than filtering it down through a three, four, even five degrees of separation (the degrees vary depending on whether you’re working in editorial or commercial).
When you sponsor Hello Humans, that money goes straight to me. Sure Patreon takes a cut. Inkl isn’t taking any cut at all, god bless ’em. You are literally buying me time. You’re probably even buying words on a page.
The things your money will be funding goes to the following: The time that goes into researching, writing and producing the book, podcast and the teaser excerpts which I have been publishing around the place, the Hello Humans column and newsletter, web-hosting, printing costs for the upcoming e-book and the Book Book, and legal fees because all good journalism needs a lawyer.
All costs are directly funding journalism. My journalism. No middle managers to be found here. Administrative costs are minimal. When you sponsor me you are literally buying me time to keep producing independent journalism that puts your interests at the centre. I’d do it anyway but without your help it would take me a lot longer and it would forever be a second priority to paying the mortgage and keeping the lights on.
It is my hope that I have / am developed / developing an intimacy with my readers that doesn’t exist when you write for a masthead. I have a small band of gladiators for journalism who sponsor me on Patreon. They get me. They are my people. And I hope I am theirs.
Do I expect to be able to live off reader donations alone? No. But if I could subsidise even a quarter of my income then that is proof I can make this work.
I have been freelancing for six years without crowdfunding. I won’t lie. It has been a hard slog. But damn it if it hasn’t been worth it. It is important for me to continue working with industry, but I do not want to rely on a masthead alone for credibility. I need to prove I have that all on my own.
I am doing this because I am a true believer. Because I believe that truth is importance and so is context. Because a free and independent press is the cornerstone of democracy. I’m out to prove audiences care about these things too, and are willing to pay for it. Even if all they can afford is ten cents.
Claire Connelly is working on her first book, How The World Really Works, a guide to recognising rhetorical red flags and immunising yourself against bullshit. You should definitely buy it when it comes out. A podcast of the same name will also be launching in the coming months. Stay tuned!