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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

How Germany Resists the Corporate Takeover of its Local Newspapers

local paper local news newspapers ethical journalism democracy

Championing Local Newspapers to boost democracy and speed up carbon drawdown

Our public media literacy campaign, The See Through Newspaper Review Project, aims to draw attention to the fact that 90% of the surviving local newspapers in the Anglosphere and beyond, are owned by corporate agglomerators.

In our Review groups on Facebook, like our pilot Salisbury Journal Review, we expose the dirty tricks and unethical practices of these advertising platforms posing as newspapers. 

We do it using the See Through mantra of ‘Fun. Friendly. Factful.’ Our criticism is fact-based and verifiable. We attach blame to the cost-cutting business model of the corporate owners, never to individual journalists, whose side we’re on.  

Ultimately, we don’t even blame the conglomerates for their moribund business model. The blame lies with the pusillanimous and compromised governments that neglect to regulate both the conglomerates and the Silicon Valley Overlords who’ve devoured their advertising cake.

So we jump up and down, and point and shout at this stealth zombification of our local newspapers. We do this partly because no one else is, but mainly because without trust in the media and the ability to distinguish good and bad journalism, the task of removing carbon from the atmosphere will be even more challenging than it already is.

Relentless negativity, however, is corrosive. That’s why we make a point of not just exposing unethical practices, but also of giving praise when praise is due.

On the rare occasions when ethical journalism breaks out, we make a point of championing it. As with our critiques of unethical practices, we specify exactly what makes that particular article a good example of local journalism. We name individual journalists when praising, never when criticising. Our beef is with the boardroom, not the newsroom.

We’ve concocted fun Sniff and Smell tests, designed to do for local news ethics what the Bechdel Test has done for female representation in Hollywood.

We do what we can.

Praise Individual Countries Too

Just as we praise individual journalists and articles, See Through News also likes to recognise all-too-rare examples of good government regulation of local news. 

We’re written elsewhere about Sweden and Norway’s brilliantly simple and subtle strategy of providing small subsidies to the 2nd-biggest title in any region

Britain once provided a model of these subtly crucial values. When it set up the BBC in 1922 and Channel 5 in 1982, Britain demonstrated how to cherish and protect something as fragile and valuable as independent journalism.

Unfortunately it’s now providing a model of how to trash such delicate treasures, as BBC values decline and its budget is frozen. The UK government is selling off Channel 4 to commercial bidders. Channel 4 is in no need of outside help, and is doing just fine. The British government, not so much…

But enough gloom. Here’s a shout-out to another beacon of hope. Another European nation with a relatively healthy and thriving local newspaper market. Germany.

Local newspapers in Germany aren’t immune from creeping corporatisation. As a global phenomenon, it’s hard to resist. 

But Germany proves that resolute government regulation that values independent local media and local democracy can work.

Britannica.com provides detail in this good summary, but broadly speaking, Germany treads the fine line between the dangers of state-owned media and the Wild West of unregulated media, with prudence and sensitivity.  

Some examples:

  • The Federal Court enshrines the pre-eminence of publicly-funded media in law
  • German public broadcasters are headquartered in different parts of the country
  • Each state has its own radio and TV stations
  • Freedom of the press is guaranteed under National Basic Law
  • Local and regional papers have made the transition from print to online without sacrificing their independence
  • Political parties don’t own newspapers 
  • Monopoly-busting bureaucrats prevent the concentration of media ownership, and are armed with legal teeth to enforce their actions

So let’s raise a large stein of beer to Germany. It’s encouraging to know it’s still possible for local newspapers to thrive, if they’re valued, nurtured, and their critical role in promoting democracy is recognised.

Of course it’s not as straightforward as transplanting all German regulations and expecting them to work everywhere. Every country has its own history, and media infrastructure. 

All the more reason to learn from good practice.