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On supporting the Naked Capitalism fundraiser

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

On Saturday Yves Smith kicked off her annual fundraiser for Naked Capitalism (NC). If you aren’t familiar with NC, there are few sites like it – ones that go against the prevailing currents of Internet convention.

Fifteen years ago just having such a site was an accomplishment. As more people discovered these sites and the software for it became easier to use, bloggers like digby and Atrios showed up – and began providing sharp analysis from a perspective that was almost entirely absent from traditional media outlets. Many similar ones followed; then something of a turning point arrived around 2006.

It became basically impossible to distinguish a site on commentary alone. A liberal one, for instance, could only say “Bush sucks” so many different ways. A handful of bloggers like Atrios and digby continued to stand out, but for the most part blogs were confronted by a very hard question: What else ya got?

One of the really exciting possibilities at the time was a crowd sourced data point model. Joshua Marshall at Talking Points Memo (TPM) broke a huge story using it. TPM’s readers started sending in stories from local papers of US attorneys being fired. Marshall used his site as a clearinghouse, kept on it in the face of dismissal and derision from media gatekeepers, and ended up being vindicated as the firings became a major scandal for the Bush administration.

For whatever reason, Marshall chose not to pursue an investigative model. Like many he went instead with something more like aggregation. Aimai had these thoughts on where Marshall has taken TPM in recent years:

he has no interest in putting in the time, energy, or thought to actually reporting anything novel. The entire format of the front page and of his editor’s viewpoint is clickbait….If he is content to run an endless stream of one sentence clips from speeches, or to repurpose this morning’s post with a new picture and a slightly sexier headline in the afternoon, who am I to criticize? But, at the same time, there is something truly destructive about this approach. For years we’ve all criticized the NYT and CNN and other major media players for failing to give their readers enough historic background and context to understand the significance of the events they are covering. This is even more the case with TPM. The short, clippy, format they have chosen to cover, for example, the shutdown or the debt ceiling fight is trivializing and highly deceptive.

Other sites changed to reflect a new political landscape. In 2008 liberal ones had to confront going from uniform opposition to the Bush administration to figuring out how to approach the new Democratic one. Many almost completely aligned with it, and Smith describes one consequence of that:

For instance, a politically progressive blogger we’ve quoted finally got fed up and started posting pieces critical of Obama. That site went on a defacto blacklist. Traffic fell over 80% almost immediately.

Of course, on the right there was the reverse dynamic: sites that had been fanatically pro-Bush became virulently anti-Obama. A lot of sites just went away entirely. (Keeping a blog active year after year is hard!) There were – and are – precious few that maintained anything like a policy-based critique. NC is one of them, though. Smith and her colleagues have consistently offered political and economic analysis based on what they consider best – not who they like best.

In addition to that kind of independent thinking, Smith and company have answered “what else ya got?” with deep dives into source material. See her post for details, but after outlining some of those efforts she notes, “original reporting is much more exacting and time-consuming than commentary and analysis.” Donations to NC go towards making her particular brand of economic reporting possible. And make no mistake about it, the reporting Smith does – readable narratives of complex economic issues from a power-adversarial stance – is done just about nowhere else. There’s her, Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone, freelancer Dave Dayen, and….who else exactly?

Finally, donating encourages alternatives. One of my blogging refrains is: We are the media. I originally thought the best outcome for bloggers was leveraging their online popularity into perches at more visible outlets. I no longer believe that. I don’t think it’s any use to storm the ramparts. Going to a news division that’s a line item on a multinational’s spreadsheet inevitably – and I mean that quite literally – compromises the vision of those who manage to get elevated there.

What we need instead is to create our own media infrastructure that works our own way. Instead of a handful of big operations, an archipelago of smaller ones. Lots of people knowing lots of other people. NC is one of the bigger islands on that map, and your donation encourages that model. As Smith writes, keeping her site up and running is a lot of work:

Have you noticed how the only media appearances we’ve done are Bill Moyers and Harry Shearer’s Le Show? We’ve turned down all other requests due to being chronically overloaded (this may seem misguided unless you realize that the alternative is physical breakdown).

So help lighten the load and donate via WePay, or see the fundraiser post for other ways. In depth analysis, unique original reporting and alternatives to traditional media outlets don’t just happen. They need support, yours in particular.

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