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Finding media where profit isn't the motive

Published onJan 01, 2020
Finding media where profit isn't the motive

It’s been increasingly popular in some circles to criticize the “mainstream media” for political bias. Certainly all media have their biases—as I said in the book, all media pick and choose what they cover. There’s no media outlet out there that isn’t shaped by the choices of the people who work together to produce it.

But a more common source of bias is the profit motive. Most media, both digital and traditional, are owned by corporations or companies who need to show a profit beyond their operating expenses. They need to please advertisers and attract more viewers, readers, or listeners. This means they cover some things and not others. For more on how this works, see the book.

Want to avoid profit-driven bias? Check out the following partial list of not-for-profit media options. (For more, see Wikipedia’s list of public broadcasters.) It’s especially effective to compare news stories across these outlets, to see what they’re saying or focusing on in different ways, who they’re choosing to interview and who they’re not. That can be a great way to overcome the biases of relying on only one media outlet.

In the United States

Government-funded, less-commercial independent media include National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service. (I say “less-commercial” rather than “non-commercial” because corporate funding of these services has risen over the past few decades.) Much of NPR’s content is produced by Public Radio International.

The Institute for Nonprofit News supports American news organizations that aren’t owned by large corporations or dependent on fighting for advertisements to survive. Many of their members produce very local news—something we’ve lost a lot of in the past few decades. To check out what their members produce in your area, see INN’s member directory.

ProPublica is one nonprofit that investigates healthcare, education, labor, criminal justice, and more. Check out ProPublica’s local coverage in particular.

In the United Kingdom

The British Broadcasting Corporation is funded by taxpayer dollars. The BBC has a broad reach in covering international news.

In Canada

Taxpayer-funded CBC/Radio Canada produces a wealth of great entertainment programming as well as news.

In Australia

ABC is the Australian public broadcaster, and it prominently features a fact-checking site.

Locally, worldwide

Community access television networks usually broadcast shows that are non-commercial and developed by people local to your area—unlike national media like NPR, the BBC, or CBC. They may be particularly good at covering local government. Here are lists of some community media channels in Europe and Massachusetts, for example. To look for a community access channel near you, do a search for “community access television” plus the name of your town, county, or state, or do a search on Google or Bing’s maps. (A reliable recent map of stations is hard to find; Wikipedia has this short list of notable stations, and had this older list where many links are out of date, but the names of stations may still be correct.)

Low-power FM radio is also a source for locally-produced news. The Prometheus Radio Project offers this list of some of the best LPFM stations out there.

Radio and video online

The Internet Archive is dedicated to storing, saving, and sharing a huge variety of audio, video, and written content. Some of it was produced commercially, but there is also a great deal of content from independent producers around the world.

Media on specific subjects

Kanopy is a streaming service for entertainment and documentary media, including kids’ shows, that is not ad-driven. It features a wide range of media produced by independent producers. You may be able to access it through a local library or university.

Democracy Now! is a nonprofit, listener-funded news outlet that covers the news through a progressive lens.

The Marshall Project covers the criminal justice system and reform efforts.

Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, focuses on “government fraud and waste of taxpayer funds, human rights violations, environmental degradation and threats to public safety.”

The Global Reporting Centre covers international stories that have been neglected elsewhere.

The International Reporting Project chooses areas of focus that have included painkiller abuse, mental illness, migration, and logging.

In the UK, is run by a non-profit entity and is dedicated to positive, uplifting content.

Not-for-profit social media

Mastodon and Diaspora are a social media services that are run by small groups (they’re distributed) and don’t have ads. On these services, there isn’t some central company keeping track of all your data.

Signal is a secure chat app that encrypts your communications while they are in transit, and also offers disappearing messages.

Social media with profit models that aren’t ad-driven

WT.Social is a news-focused social media network founded by the makers of Wikipedia that has made a pledge to never sell users’ data. It stays afloat on subscription payments and donations.

Mattermost and Slack provide a series of chat rooms and related services that you can run yourself. They are owned by corporations, but ads are not part of their profit model. On Mattermost, you have full control of your data yourself, but you need to find someone who can run it on Linux or a server. On Slack, unless you pay for the service (and that’s at the level that a corporation can pay), you will not be able to access older messages at some point.

Learn more about accountability from news outlets

If you’re concerned with who owns news outlets, how they check their facts, and their ethics, check out the Newsroom Transparency Tracker.

For more background on corporate and big-money influence on news sources, take a look at PRWatch, SourceWatch, and Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting’s sections on advertiser influence and corporate ownership.

For more, pick up a copy of Keep Calm and Log On.

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