There are times when I feel it is best to keep our readers in the dark about the struggles we face in this business. The news that we produce is already a lot to digest, and asking people to fathom the hardships we endure in making journalism can be burdensome.
Still, there are times when I have no choice whatsoever. This is one of them. As those who pay attention to my Twitter feed may have seen this past week, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), which my team launched in 2015 to boost critical reporting in this and several other outlets, was dealt a damaging blow. The blogging platform Medium, where we post most of our content (often shortly after it initially publishes in places like the Dig), suddenly and without notice cancelled our entire membership program. This was an important grassroots funding well for us; since our administrators don’t take salaries, the hundreds we collected every month and thousands every year paid for multiple projects.
Again, I hope this isn’t TMI for the average dedicated Dig reader. Nevertheless, those who choose to stay informed should understand how in addition to financial strains and the resulting brain drains broken budgets have led to across our industry, journalistic entities—particularly independent ones like Dig and BINJ—are also often at the mercy of technocrats and new media gurus. As my partner in these efforts Jason Pramas and I have opined about at length in recent months, Facebook is a huge part of the problem. But Zuckerberg is not alone in wielding major influence on journalism without understanding what us actual journos are going through.
Following a tweetstorm I began on Monday afternoon, Medium claimed that it sent me an email one week before cancelling all memberships, informing us that the platform was making yet another pivot and doing away with programs like ours. I never saw said correspondence, and I do not believe they sent it, but that’s entirely beyond the point. Whether one week or even an entire month, it is unacceptable—especially for a well-funded site run by a blabbermouth billionaire—to use small orgs like ours in its experiment, then to disregard us like some worthless afterthought. (On Friday, a Medium spokesperson issued a general apology to the affected publishers, and said they would be reimbursing four months’ worth of subscription dollars.)
We were one of more than 20 publications that Medium pulled the plug on last week. Thankfully, media writers and critics covered the fallout, and I was able to throw deserved shade on Medium. But had executive decision makers there made a legitimate effort to reach out and rap—to my crew and all of the others—we would have happily explained it all. Which could have been a free invaluable focus group for Medium and prevented loudmouth nuts like me from making such a stink about it.
There have been many lessons learned this past week. Some have been demoralizing, but it can’t murder our spirit. I’m already working on a list of things that journalists and publishers should ask innovation partners before jumping into bed with them, and I’ll be using it as we communicate with several companies and individuals who have reached out to help us since news of this mess got out. Thanks to them, and to all the new and longtime donors who have stepped up to put fuel in our tank. If we had to rely on the so-called disruptors of contemporary media to power our mission, I have little doubt that local journalism, already the forgotten or at best patronized class of the dwindling reporting masses, would be disrupted into an oblivion in no time.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF