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Funding Progressive News Media

SNA’s exclusive interview with former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in May 2015.

SNA (Tokyo) — There is a way for the news media to serve the interests of the public majority: It requires the public itself to provide sufficient funding for those news media organizations.

Needless to say, most of the news media today is either state-funded or else draws its money from corporate advertisers. Both of these kinds of media can do good work on subjects which are not too politically sensitive for them.

State-funded NHK, for example, can do superb coverage of reporting on day-to-day weather events or major disasters. However, if you want a deeper coverage of more controversial issues like climate change or government corruption, they don’t have much to offer.

Likewise, the corporate media does just fine in reporting most news issues, but how often do you see them offering more systematic critiques about the weakness of democratic institutions or the problems associated with growing corporate authoritarianism? They may not be entirely silent on these issues, but when the interests of their advertisers get involved there is a strong incentive for them to soft-pedal or to avoid tricky discussions.

Progressive news media funded by its readers sidesteps these problems because financial levers cannot be used to influence its reporting agenda. So long as the readers or viewers understand that the reporting service is truthful and worthwhile, the organization can endure.

But grassroots progressive media does have a serious difficulty—the people who complain daily about the untruthfulness of their news media seem to far outnumber those who are willing to make an actual financial contribution to support progressive news organizations.

At the beginning of this year, the Shingetsu News Agency launched a Patreon account to gather funds for our news coverage. The idea was simple: we would produce news features at a rate determined by how much funding we could get. After almost seven months, here are the results:

Expenses:

Work of President Michael Penn and SNA Interns — 0 yen monthly
Rent, Equipment, etc. — 0 yen monthly
Article and Video Commissions — 10,000 – 30,000 yen monthly
Corporate Taxes — 70,000 yen yearly

Income:

SNA Premium Services Subscriptions — 12,000 yen monthly
Patreon Donations — 5,500 yen monthly

As you can perceive, the SNA still hardly exists outside of the more than seven years of volunteer contributions by Michael Penn and the SNA Interns. It runs at a small financial loss most years, for which Penn picks up the remaining bill.

The frustrating thing is that it wouldn’t actually take very much money to make SNA a powerful voice within Japan’s English-language news media landscape. Imagine, for example, what the SNA could be doing with, say, 1,000,000 yen in monthly income:

Possible 1,000,000 Yen Budget:

600,000 — Commission twenty print news articles at 30,000 yen rate each
200,000 — Commission some editing and translation services
100,000 — Commission two high-quality news videos at 50,000 yen rate each
100,000 — Operations and technology-upgrade expenses

The SNA has no ambition to establish a brick-and-mortar office, as we believe the future of the news media is to exist on the air. Meetings are usually be conducted via Skype or by e-mail. The amount of overhead could be kept to a minimum so that we could plow most of our income directly back into news coverage.

For now this remains only a dream. Perhaps it will never be more than a dream. The key to realizing this vision is whether or not the people who like to complain about the corporate news can be persuaded to make financial contributions to a better kind of news service that doesn’t rely on corporate funding.

The months and years ahead will supply that answer.

Get the feeling that your news services aren’t telling you the whole truth? That’s what happens when they get their operating money from governments and business corporations. SNA relies exclusively upon its subscribers in order to remain fully independent. Please support fearless and progressive media in Japan through Patreon.

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