Jacob Kaplan-Moss

Paying More for Media

A while back, I was listening to an episode of Search Engine about the recent massive decline in the news media industry. In the episode, Ezra Klein said something that resonated:

Every time you read one thing over another or watch or listen to or spend time on, you are creating more of that thing and less of other things. […] When you become a member, a subscriber, then you’re really sending a signal to generate more of that thing and not of the other thing.

Like what we pay attention to online, we are willing into existence. What we ignore online, we are asking to die. […]

If you want local news to exist, you have to subscribe to local news. [32:50]

He argues that there is some degree of personal responsibility here:

I often say like within these questions of consumption, people should think of themselves as individual nodes for collective change. […] Meaning that your decisions don’t matter so much because they are your decision. Any one of us is a small part of this very, very large whole. But the decisions you make influence the people around you. Human beings are social. WHat we do is contagious. You know, like you should understand that there is a relationship between like individual decisions and collective outcomes.

Again, I want to be very clear that I’m not saying at all that what happened in media is that like individual people made a bunch of bad decisions and this is the fault of the consumer. Like the business models got wrecked by platforms, by bad venture capital decisions, by a lot of forces that were out of our control, right? And we were like – we were not prepared for it. We had no immune system. Like we were being given, you know, curiosity bait headlines and serve things virally and like we didn’t see it all.

But at some point you have to stop if you think this is going badly and say, “Okay, now what?” [37:40]

As host PJ Vogt summarizes: “it’s not our fault, but solving it might still be our responsibility.” [38:48].

This connected, my brain, to an argument Michael Pollan makes in In Defense of Food:

While it is true that many people simply can’t afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we’ve somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority. [p. 187]

The connection here feels obvious (and indeed, in another part of the interview, Ezra Klein explicitly makes a similar connection). “Cheap” food is really food where much of the cost is borne by someone other than the consumer: tax subsidies, increased health care costs, climate change, and exploitation of labor. And “cheap” media is subsidized by privacy-invading data collection, exit-seeking venture capital and private equity, and exploitation of labor (funny how that keeps coming up).

So these pieces came together into a new principle I’m trying to live by: pay more for (independent) media. Over the last few weeks I’ve tried to put this principle into action, subscribing to independent media I enjoy and want to continue to exist. (I’ve also cancelled some subscriptions to the kind of “cheap” corporate media that I want to see less of).

Like Pollan says about food: not everyone can afford to pay more for media. But I can, so I’m trying to.

Independent media I’m paying for

Here’s what I’m spending my media budget on. I’m still early in trying to transition my spending over from corporate media to independent. I plan to update this list over time as it grows and evolves.

Streaming Services

  • Dropout — hands down the best subscription on this list, and second place isn’t even close. Game Changer is the funniest thing on any platform right now - check out Lie Detector or Sam Says (both free on YouTube) to get a taste. I’m also increasingly getting addicted to Dimension 20, Dropout’s live play DnD show.

  • Nebula - I am not currently subscribed, but have been considering it for a while. Many of my favorite creators from YouTube are making videos over there, so this might replace some of my YouTube viewing, which I have complicated feelings about (see below).

  • YouTube Premium — I watch a ton of YouTube, probably more than any other streaming service. I have complicated feelings about this. YouTube is in no way “independent”, and I don’t love “voting” for it to still exist. But the creators I’m watching by and large are! And YouTube’s revenue share model is by far the most creator-friendly of any video platform. There really aren’t any credible alternatives (except maybe Nebula).

    The vast majority of channels I’m subscribed to don’t have a Patreon or any way to give them money directly. They seem to be able to support themselves entirely off the YouTube rev share (and direct sponsorships, etc). So if I stop watching YouTube I’m probably harming the channels I’m subscribed to way more than I’m harming Google. So I’m keeping this one, for now.

News and newsletters

  • 404media is doing the best critical reporting on the tech industry right now. I still miss Valleywag, but 404 will have to do.

  • She’s A Beast - Casey Johnston’s newsletter about weightlifting and related health/fitness topics. This is a tremendously difficult topic to find reliable information on — so much bad advice, body shaming, and outright grifters. Casey is one of the only sources I trust on these topics. If you’re looking to get into weightlifting, her Liftoff program – free with a sub to the newsletter – looks like a pretty fantastic introductory program. (I used something different but quite similar when I was getting started.)

  • Lawrence KS Times - I moved to Lawrence, KS to work for the Lawrence Journal-World, the local family-owned independent newspaper, and suffice to say that decision changed my life. Sadly, the Journal-World got bought by Ogden in 2016, and the predictable steady decline followed. The Lawrence KS Times, founded by a friend-of-a-friend, is starting to pick up the slack.

  • Asheville Blade - independent news in Asheville, NC. Although I have no particular connection to Asheville, the publisher is a friend-of-a-friend, and once again I have a soft spot for small independent local news outlets.

Note that these are just the things I’m paying for. I’m subscribed to maybe a dozen more newsletters. There’s value in signing up for free newsletters, too — many (most?) organizations in this category are also making some money off advertising, so signing up increases their subscriber counts and helps them get better rates.


  • Search Engine - a sort of weekly explainer podcast, but one that covers a very idiosyncratic and wide range of questions. They range from huge stories with massive scope (Why are there so many illegal weed stores in NYC?) to very small and personal (How do I find new music now that I’m old and irrelevant?).

  • Sawbones — a medical history explainer show. Most of my podcast subs fall into “entertainment” or “education” categories; Sawbones is the rare crossover that’s as funny as it is educational.

  • Maintenance Phase - a challenging listen for me sometimes, as I don’t entirely love the “debunker” genre. But it’s very useful counterprogramming to all the “wellness” bullshit. I especially love listening to Maintenance Phase at the gym, for maximum cognitive dissonance.

  • Serious Trouble - the only Trump trial coverage I can stomach. More than that: Serious Trouble offers actual novel legal analysis instead of just outrage or talking points.

  • You Must Remember This - I’m not super into classic films, or a history nerd, and yet somehow this podcast is one of my all-time favorites. The season on Charles Mason absolutely floored me, telling a side of the story I had no idea about. And the season on Sammy & Dino is quietly one of the best studies of race in the United States.

I listen to way more podcasts than this, but surprisingly many of my other favorite shows don’t offer any way to pay to support them! I’ll occasionally buy swag or whatever when they offer it, though.

Join me, if you can?

Once again, not everyone can afford to pay more for media, and if you can’t, that’s fine. But if you’re paying for traditional media instead of independent media out of choices — I guess, consider the impact of that choice, and if it’s not aligned with the kind of media you want to see in the world, make some different choices.