But there is, actually, a liberal version of this scheme, funding innocuous looking “local news sites” around the country. That network, called “Courier Newsroom,” is the brainchild of one of the geniuses behind the utterly disastrous Iowa caucus app. It comprises eight sites, to Timpone’s more than 1,200. (Before the propaganda business, Timpone worked on algorithmically generated news, which now helps to fill all his sites with content.) Ideally, liberal-minded wealthy people would fund not low-cost content mills, but actual top-tier, locally oriented reporting and analysis across the country. But, as mentioned, very few are willing to do this at a perpetual loss.
The left, broadly defined, has a very real need for mass-oriented, unapologetically political media. It will not create or sustain that media with the help of wealthy donors or an ad-based business model. The obvious other answer is subscriptions and paywalls. And, indeed, that is the only model that seems to work, in this environment, for funding particular kinds of journalism and commentary. But that also brings up the other lesson: Once you erect the paywall, people like Brian Timpone are the players who will set up shop outside the walls, to entertain everyone unwilling to pay the toll.
It is a common enough occurrence today to see talented (and gainfully employed) journalists adopt an almost scolding tone in imploring people to subscribe to their favorite news sources. This is understandable: Producing high-quality journalism is expensive, and all of us would like our publications to be self-sufficient. But what these journalists frequently ignore is that subscription models by definition self-select for an audience seeking high quality news, and exclude people who would still benefit from high quality news, but can’t or don’t want to pay for it.
If people can’t pay for local news, or won’t actively seek it out, they will inevitably learn about their world—and their community—from the news that is readily available and free. When my friends in this industry implore people to pay for news, I always think about how many people would think it’s perfectly normal to catch a Facebook link to “The Lansing Sun” instead.