Why should you pay for journalism that you get for free?
I’m not sure. But I can tell you why I’ve built 4th Hero, why I contribute monthly, and what I hope you and I will achieve here.
I came up with this idea after reading Shane Bauer's brilliant piece My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard on Mother Jones. It’s closer to short book than an article, gives a moving look inside a world that I hadn’t thought of much before. A follow up to that article described the costs involved in the project, and the comparatively miniscule advertising revenue that it brought in. Even though the piece was great, and the world was better for having this article, it didn’t make business sense for Mother Jones to invest in this sort of work. The associated call to action was to subscribe, or to give a one-time donation.
To my discredit, I didn’t do either. I found the article by social media - I don't expect to directly navigate to Mother Jones anytime soon, so a subscription doesn’t make sense for me. And one-off donations are just hard. It feels like it won’t matter, like pulling out my credit card for $5 isn’t worth it, and worse: what if I read another even better article tomorrow?
But I want publishers to put out work like this. Personally, I love investigative journalism. I love journalism that explains something that I don’t know about or understand, that speaks truth to power, that pressures society to be better. I love journalism that makes me question my assumptions, that makes me reflect on if I’m helping to make the world better or silently supporting a cruel status quo. I want publishers to feel like they can invest in creating great journalism without focusing about advertising demographics or share-ability.
So I came up with 4th Hero, where I could put in a monthly budget and have that money shared across whatever was great this month. But my $20 each month won’t make or break anyone’s budgets, it won’t let publishers breathe a sigh of relief and just get back to work. I need you.
I’m not sure what your reason to participate will be - there are a lot to choose from. Rewarding truth in an era of Fake News. Supporting your favorite writers and the big scoops that take months of work. Looking for absolution for using ad-blockers or read-it-later apps or Safari’s Reader View (I’m in this camp). Staving off the headline that your favorite publication is shutting down or doing layoffs. Maybe you want to support niche reporting that can’t possibly find a wider audience, or maybe you just want to protest clickbait. Whatever your reasons, come and be the hero that journalism needs, and together we can write checks that matter for journalism that matters.