I just read this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover story, The Kansas Experiment.
It begins as a profile of a state senator working to make Kansas a zero income tax state, and then chronicles the legislative session in which he and his colleagues attempt to balance the budget without destroying K-12 education in the face of much lower than expected tax revenue.
The author, a Kansas native by the name of Chris Suellentrop, does an admirable job of making the details of tax package debate palatable and easy to understand.
But even better, he attempts to give the readers of a liberal newspaper a deeper understanding of why these conservative politicians are attempting to eliminate income tax.
Namely, in the face of mass exodus from the state, they hope lower taxes will spur new business and bring companies looking to relocate to Kansas.
What allows the author intimate access, and makes the anecdotes he peppers into policy talk so interesting, is that the state senator he profiles is his uncle.
It’s a wonderful piece of journalism because it didn’t just entertain or inform me, it gave me a new understanding of how people that I don’t agree with think.
I also got a thrill from realizing that not only do I know and collect the photographer who took the photos for the piece, Portland artist Holly Andres, but I also have corresponded with and bought a piece of art from Paul Windle, half of the design team that illustrated the magazine cover.
It reminded me why I love getting the New York Times delivered on Sunday.
And it got me thinking about where I get the rest of my news.
Besides once a week delivery of the Times, I get a magazine called The Week which sums up the past week’s news very much like a website aggregator, but comes printed and in the mail.
Other than it, it’s Facebook.
I get whatever my friends share. Or whatever Facebook thinks I want to see of what my friends share.
Which tends to be the same story or stories on the same subject for about a day or two straight.
Sometimes real journalism fights it’s way into the top of my feeds. But too often I see a link to a piece about what someone who has no business running for president said in an effort to remind us he has no business running for president.
I miss balance and breadth in my news cycle.
When I was growing up we got the paper every day. We also got Time and Newsweek and lots of other magazine. Often we also watched a television program called The News.
Even just five years ago my wife and I got the Oregonian every morning, and the New York Times on Sunday, and had as a dozen magazine subscriptions.
Now we’re down to once a week newspaper and a magazine.
Our monthly news bill is about $20.
That is the sum total we pay for journalism and reporting.
You know, reporting, where someone actually leaves their computer and travels outside their comfort zone and talks to people and covers things and relies on first hand experience and observation and testimony.
Don’t get me wrong; I like opinion pieces, so much so that I’m writing one in the form of this blog post. But in order for people to properly form opinions they need real reporting to inform them.
A good piece of journalism might take weeks or even months to research and write. I’m sure The Kansas Experiment did.
And because so few of us are paying much for our news, there’s a lot less money going to fund this kind of work.
Now I realize journalism is mostly supported by advertising, not subscriptions. But what newspapers and magazines can charge for advertising is directly linked to subscriptions. Or more recently page views.
And I know, because I work in advertising, that advertisers pay a lot more for ads that go to subscribers than ads that are viewed on free websites.
So I’ve decided to pay more for my news.
We’re going to get the New York Times every day, and the New Yorker, and Portland Monthly, and maybe the Economist and maybe a few more.
And at my wife’s urging I’m going to like the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post on Facebook.
That way they’ll get more subscriptions and page views, which will help their advertising, and hopefully I’ll get more of what they want me to see.
And hopefully less of that guy Facebook keeps reminding me is running for president.
Let me know if you have any other suggestions.