Monday, October 26, 2009

ARCHIVE: Corporations: Do you love them more than you’ll admit?

By Kéllia Ramares
Online Journal Associate Editor
March 5, 2005—In late February, KPFA-FM, part of the Pacifica Radio Network, finished a successful fundraiser that garnered over a million dollars in pledges. If they run true to form, they’ll actually collect about 85 percent of the money. KPFA, the first listener-sponsored radio station, will be back for more in May, August and October. March 2 was my 6th anniversary at KPFA. Over the years, I have watched KPFA’s fundraising goals increase. The station has always made its goal. True, it’s occasionally done so by extending the fundraiser a few days, but never by more than that.
During the same time as this latest KPFA fundraiser, Online Journal publisher Bev Conover started a little fundraiser of her own. Her goal was nowhere near as lofty as KPFA’s. She’s looking for $10,000 to replace aging computer equipment. Recently, she told me her fundraiser was going “lousy.” She’s not alone in this. Why are the modest funding appeals of left news sites like Online Journal going begging, while larger organizations like KPFA can rake in the dough?

Online Journal has been published since 1998, so it’s no fly-by-night organization that hasn’t updated its web page in a year. Big name journalists such as Greg Palast and Wayne Madsen have published in Online Journal. That means it has a significant readership, unlike a certain recently disappeared, Republican faux news site. Writers of that caliber would not waste their time on the Internet version of a supermarket advertising rag. The statistics program shows the readers are there; but few are contributing. Why? You can’t all be members of the economic underclass (though if the neocons have their way, you will be). And Online Journal has been offering political merchandise and books for some time now, so those of you who don’t like to just give money away can purchase something. Yet what is needed to replace the aging computer equipment is not forthcoming. Why?
I think the word “corporations” is key to answering that question. Tell me if I’m wrong, dear readers, but I think you feel more comfortable giving to corporations, for profit and not-for-profit, than you do small outfits run by one or two people. There is something about the corporate form and a large organization with many employees that gives you comfort, even as large organizations, including the government and the media, lie to you everyday.
Maybe a lot of you feel a large organization is to be better trusted with donations than an individual, even as you ask that individual to do investigations and reports on this, that and the other. Is there some little voice in your head telling you that instead of buying computer equipment, Bev will use the money for a vacation in Tahiti, so best to give your money to a large organization? If so, tell that little voice that the papers are full of stories about abuse of funds in both for profit and not-for-profit corporations. Does the name Enron ring a bell? Ask the workers trying to recover pension money in Enron’s bankruptcy proceedings about the security and honor of large organizations.
Or maybe you believe that individuals and small operations somehow don’t have the expenses that organizations do. Well, we don’t have some of the same expenses, but we still have expenses. You might resent the commercialization of the Internet and want everything there to be free, but the landlords, grocers and utility companies who provide services to web workers haven’t joined the “free” world. The
slogan at is “Information ought to be free.” True. But information workers need to be paid. We have to eat, pay rent, and replace aging computer equipment.
Perhaps you think that there is something wrong with donating money to an individual or a small operation while you slave away in the corporate world. It reeks of the dole, of charity. It violates those American values of rugged individualism and “free” (ha!) enterprise. And, besides, publishing is much more glamorous than what you do in your workplace everyday, so whaddya mean she wants money, too? If you think that way, then don’t think of giving money to Online Journal as a donation; consider it pay for the hard work that it takes to maintain a website like this one. Those of you who maintain websites, as a hobby or for a living, should be especially sensitive to this.
And remember that you purchase a lot of corporate media. Many of you have cable TV, subscriptions to corporate newspapers and magazines, and accounts with corporate ISPs furnishing web browsers that publish news on their home pages. Yet, you read Online Journal, too, because you know the corporates are not telling you all you need to know to survive these perilous times. You pay for the corporate media, yet balk at contributing to the upkeep of a valuable website you visit free of charge. Why? I know it’s a paradox, but how can Internet publishers keep websites free if you won’t pay?
I want to see Internet news and commentary sources keep free access. I know what it is to have my work limited to a paying readership. As a writer, I didn’t like it. I felt my work had been buried. But the publisher who did that was able to pay me something for the article, which took care of a couple of my bills, because readers were paying him subscription fees. Imagine if you were forced to pay a subscription for every news site you visited! (The corporate newspapers are working on it, which is why mandatory registrations to read them online are proliferating).
Or perhaps you distrust anyone who hasn’t gone through the hassle of becoming a 501(c)(3). If you feel that way, you must not understand the cost of becoming a tax-exempt organization. I’m not talking about the financial cost, but the political one. IRS tax-exempt organizations must refrain from political activity, apparently including speech. The IRS wants to investigate whether a speech given by NAACP director Julian Bond constituted impermissible political activity. Bond is often critical of the Bush administration and the IRS is thinking that maybe Bond went too far for a director of a tax-exempt organization last July. (The NAACP announced it would not co-operate with the investigation by supplying requested documents). Would you really want to see Online Journal tone down its political message in order for you to write off your $10 or $50 or $100 on April 15?
Since I mainly do audio work, I’ve become interested in the burgeoning phenomenon known as podcasting. Individuals and organizations are creating programs that can be downloaded to iPod-type devices for on-demand play. Many amateurs are creating their own programs for podcast distribution. No doubt, some consumers want the downloads to be free, for political as well as economic reasons. And organizations in public radio and TV that are podcasting can offer “free” downloads by folding the cost of producing them into their fundraising goals. For independent producers, podcasting could lead to a world better than free: one where programming is cheap enough to maintain near universal access, while creating enough income for producers to live decently and afford the technology they need to improve their work. If, for example, 5,000 people downloaded a podcast of my R.I.S.E. program once a month for 50 cents, I could have $2,500 a month, which is an okay living for a single person in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area. But I’ve yet to read anything about how independent producers can charge for the downloads.
A high volume of downloads is the critical factor to making podcasting both a cheap source of information for the listener and a sustainable income for the professional producer. High volume is also critical for print sites like Online Journal. If 5,000 readers donated $2 each, Bev would have the $10,000 for needed new equipment; if they donated $10 each, she would have the $10,000 she needs for equipment replacement, plus $40,000 she can use to compensate investigative reporters for their work. And I know that 5,000 is only a fraction of Online Journal’s readers. Surely there is an Online Journal article you have read, and maybe even downloaded, that you think is worth a few dollars. Compare that price with TIME magazine, which costs $3.95 a week at the newsstand. So while the bulk of the work in publishing Online
Journal falls on one woman, who happens to be a journalist and former newspaper editor, rather than a large corporation, surely it has provided you with information you wish major news organizations did, but don’t.
If you will pay for corporate media or pledge to large public broadcasting outfits like NPR or Pacifica, yet balk at contributing to a website such as Online Journal, ask yourself this: Corporations: Do you love them more than you’ll admit?
Copyleft 2005 Kéllia Ramares. Readers are encouraged to copy and distribute or link to this article in its entirety with proper credit to the author.
UPDATE July, 2009: <a href="" target="_blank">Online Journal</a> still needs your help.
UPDATE October 2009 This blog could use some financial support, too.