BBC journalist Andrew Marr: “How can you know that I’m self-censoring?”
Noam Chomsky: “I’m not saying you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”
I’m supposed to tell you about the future of alternative media, but if I did, I would finish this essay feeling certain I had failed. I feel semiconfident I could put something down on paper that would sound important and reasonable—citing studies and examples for several pages that left you 15 minutes later impressed that you had learned something valuable. If I spent even more time on research and called up experts for quotes, emailed journalism professors to get their thoughts and published studies, I might accidentally write an essay that would rate a tweet from Jay Rosen, a media professor at New York University, who is known for thinking big thoughts about journalism.
But it would be a hoax.
Nobody knows what to expect in the future. Anyone telling you otherwise is either lying or on faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School. The highway of history is littered with the flattened carcasses of investor media startups and foundation-backed “news democracy initiatives”—each providing “information that really matters” before getting run over by investor greed, funder apathy, or reader disinterest.
I don’t work at the Harvard Kennedy School, a venture capital fund, nor a well-funded foundation. And I’m not interested in drafting some future of the media plan only to see it look silly in retrospect. I’ve learned that new ideas thrive or die mostly out of luck. More important than blabbing about the future of alternative media, I want to tell you why alternative media matters, and leave the future to sort itself out.
It always does.
Where I’m coming from
First, you should know something about me and how I consume news so that you’ll understand where I’m coming from. I’m American, so I have an American sensibility when it comes to the media, meaning my experiences will differ from people in Europe—which I understand to some degree—and from those getting news in other parts of the world, which I understand even less. By American sensibility, I mean that I’m used to newspapers and TV news that have a political slant that is down the middle and attempts to maintain an objective perspective.
I’ve always followed the news, even as a small boy. One of my first media memories was watching the evening news with my Dad in the 1970s when the broadcast reported that soldiers in South America were fighting gorillas. After the news intro, the program went to a short camera segment with soldiers fighting the gorillas and shooting into the rainforest at an unseen enemy. I kept watching to see if a gorilla would come running out of the jungle firing back with a machine gun. The point is that I can always remember following the news, even before I was old enough to know the difference between a “gorilla” and a “guerilla.”