POINT: Consumers have the power to bring back ethical journalism

Sonali Seth | Daily Trojan

On Monday, the Koch brothers bought Time, Inc. Well, not exactly, but $650 million from them sealed the acquisition by the Meredith Corporation to purchase the publisher, which includes TIME Magazine, People and Sports Illustrated.

That piece of news will likely disappear from the news cycle in a couple days, if it hasn’t already — eclipsed by the frenzied attempt to pass the GOP tax plan in Congress this week and a continued litany of investigations into sexual harassment in every industry.

But it should give any avid media consumer or informed citizen cause for concern. The acquisition of the company that holds TIME magazine — which produced in-depth, cutting edge reporting on global warming and the environment — by the Koch brothers — who have spent decades creating media counternarratives against the existence of climate change in the interest of their oil and gas conglomerates — could transform the magazine into another conservative, hyperpartisan, climate change-denying media outlet.

Granted, both Koch Industries and Meredith Corp. have said that the Koch brothers will not have editorial or managerial control of operations at TIME. But as Esquire writer Michael Sebastian pointed out, Rupert Murdoch said the same when he bought The Wall Street Journal, but evidence suggests managerial pressure to generate favorable coverage about the Trump administration. Some think that the Kochs might do the same.

“Knowing the Kochs, I think they’d have to see it as a business that could at the same time further their political interests,” Stanley S. Hubbard, a donor and associate of the Koch brothers, told The New York Times.

Art by Elizabeth Gu | Daily Trojan

It is heartbreaking that a media institution could have died on Monday. A former TIME editor, Charles Alexander, wrote a moving letter in The Nation preceding the finalization of the deal: “Can you imagine what it would be like to see your life’s work suddenly go down the drain? I can — right now.”

Yet, the possible fate of TIME isn’t unique. Alexander’s chronicle of the magazine’s demise — in which falling advertising revenues sealed its fate — is all too common about print publications. It could be the sad reality for those who fail to adapt to the digital future.

That’s why it’s so important for consumers to support the publications that we rely on by paying for them. Ethical journalism became the industry’s bedrock because that’s what consumers demanded — the truth. The present demand for hyper-partisan media has turned this on its head. As media consumers, we created the monster of partisan news, so we also have the power to revive ethical journalism as well. But in the digital era, in which so much news and information is free, we have to be okay paying for it — for subscriptions to institutions like The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as the smaller regional papers that face massive budget cuts but produce the content that matters to us.

Economic analysis tells us that free markets underproduce public goods. If we are to recognize unbiased, ethical journalism as a public good, then we have to collectively support it. So, the holidays are coming up — buy a loved one a newspaper or magazine subscription. You’re giving them a gift, but you’re helping us all out, too.

Sonali Seth is a senior majoring in policy, planning and development. She is also the special projects editor of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” ran Wednesdays.