Supporting New Internationalist

As news media face a crisis of legitimacy, reader supported alternatives offer a way forward, Chris Spannos writes

Commuters sit in front of an advertisement discouraging the dissemination of fake news, at a train station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 28 March 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

When US Senators grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before Congress on 10 April they asked how he could sustain a business model in which users don't pay for services.

With calm calculation Zuckerberg responded: 'Senator, we run ads.' The intonation of his answer, which began in a lower register for the word 'Senator' and shifted higher for the word 'ads', denoted contempt. As in: 'Senator Dinosaur, how could you possibly be so stupid as to ask that question?'

But asking how a business model can be sustainable if users don't pay for services is reasonable, even if the answer may seem unquestionably obvious. But the answer is not obvious. Zuckerberg was there to explain why his social media platform elevates commercial interests above user safety, not only in the day-to-day selling of ads (which sometimes sell illegal products and services), but following revelations that Cambridge Analytica illegally exploited Facebook user data to help get US president Donald Trump elected.

Facebook's platform – like that of Google, Amazon and the other Digital Titans – is not free for users. There is a cost. As the saying goes: if you have to ask what they're selling, you're the one being sold. In this case, the cost is user privacy and safety. The user is the commodity.

But this raises an important problem for ethical platforms such as New Internationalist, which do not elevate commercial interests above the interests of our users.

We aspire to produce fearless independent journalism that shines a light on injustice and holds the unaccountable accountable. The journalism that we publish is available for our users to access freely, regardless of how wealthy any single reader may be. We want to keep it that way, but our journalism costs money.

Producing our investigative reports – which have revealed poor working conditions on secret US military bases and Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on opposition forces to pave the way for Princess Diana’s 1986 Royal visit – and our opinion, analysis and multimedia journalism all costs valuable time and money.

We don't sell our readers to murky entities like Cambridge Analytica or to corporate advertisers to cover costs. Instead, we appeal to you, our readers, to take action. This is why we have placed a yellow banner across the bottom of all pages on our website asking for support.

If you believe that we produce valuable journalism that should be widely read, give us your support.

You can make a regular monthly contribution for as little as single cup of coffee or bus ride. It only takes a minute.

Please support us.

Thank you,
Chris Spannos, Digital Editor and Co-Director, for the New Internationalist Co-operative.

New Internationalist’s magazine ‘A better media is possible’, exploring the media crisis and alternatives to it, will be available 1st June.