Journalism, capitalism, and the purpose of our work

Do we make good journalism to support capitalism or to support our communities? Do we write to support the bottom lines of an increasingly consolidated group of corporate media conglomerates, or do we write to engage and inform our communities? 

This month's Carnival of Journalism prompt, "Can a good journalist be a good capitalist?" reminded me of conversations that followed a recent conference in Philly. The Center for Public Interest Journalism brought together journalists and citizen media makers for a conversation on "Engaging Communities." During a session on citizen-produced media, panelists described how to engage citizens in the production of media. They also discussed an important underlying question: Why do citizens make media?

What is the purpose in media making? If you want community contributors to be invested in your work, what are you asking them to invest in? 

During the panel, Hannah Sassaman outlined changes in corporate ownership of media and how they are affecting our communities. Rebekah Phillips shared examples of citizen-created work that grew from communities organizing against the effects of budget cuts. They shared concerns and context that are often missing from the rest of the conversation about engagement, the typical "view from nowhere" approach to journalism.

Phillips works for the Media Mobilizing Project and their motto is: "Movements begin with the telling of untold stories." Movements. Change making. Not trying to be a better capitalist, but working to improve and empower communities. Often, this means actively working against capitalism.

Some people would say that the work MMP does is not journalism anyway. They may say that journalism is not about change making. But isn't it? We have this fabled view of muckrackers who uncovered injustice and unfathomable working conditions. Showing that reporting has had an impact is a major piece of applications for journalism awards. It's an odd disconnect. We want to make change, we want to engage community members in making media, but if we start to talk about what exactly that change should look like, suddenly we are no longer doing our job as "good journalists." 

Free Press and its Save the News campaign are working to support good journalists by ensuring that a "robust free press" continues. As the campaign notes, the press and its role in educating and engaging citizens is key to a functioning democracy. A democracy that works well includes an active, engaged citizenry and healthy, supportive communities. I care about these things as a citizen myself, and as a good journalist. 

Disclosure: I am a donor to the Media Mobilizing Project.


Hi, Erika - thanks for the inaugural post. I had not thought of the aspect of community and its importance in the context of this topic, which is a little short-sighted of me since I objected to WebGrrls being organized as a corp instead of a NFP for this same reason: why would anyone donate their time so that someone else can get rich?

Thanks so much for your feedback. I think it can be easy to forget this context. I hadn't heard it related so directly to journalism till that conference session. Connecting with people in different fields whether it be community organizing or software development has really enriched my understanding of journalism as well.