By Michael Albert at Aug 09, 2010
Is there even one reader of ZCom who would deny that changing modern societies all around the world significantly depends on conveying comprehensive reporting, in depth analysis, and radical vision and strategy? And is there even one ZCom reader who would deny that mainstream media provides all too often nearly none of that?
Given our obviously shared desires for better media, is there even one reader of ZCom who would say that Alternative Media is doing all that it can and should, all that we want? Would you - or you - or you - say we have enough Alternative Media? Would you say that current Alternative Media is good enough and reaches far enough to fulfill our media needs?
In any given week between 200,000 and 400,000 people use ZCom, and in that whole community of radical souls I suspect there isn't even one who would even demure on the points above, much less reject them. Yet barely more than one in a thousand of our readers provides ZCom with support. Why?
We need it. We want it. We don't do it. Why? This is a serious question - not just for ZCom - but for the whole left, and indeed for the whole world.
The obstacle preventing growth of alternative media to reach farther and wider as well as to improve its offerings and services resides, by and large, not in the big bad world of rotten social relations that we all protest. Sure, it would be great if governments passed laws allotting massive resources to dissident media. But wishing for that is like wishing for manna from hell. On the other hand, why don't we help ourselves? We see the need. We realize the importance. So, we have motive, and we even have the means and opportunity, and yet we fail to act. It is odd, don't you think - even a bit suicidal.
Well, maybe it is not so odd. The above applies, of course, to building movements and equally to building alternative media - with the two highly entwined. Among those who honestly feel the need and the support, and even who follow and use and relate to alternative media and movements, very few actively contribute to either. Again, why?
Well, with movements, there are arguably understandable and even plausibly good reasons. People don't know what to do to help. They don't have avenues of approach. And more, they doubt the efficacy of taking the plunge to help. Contemporary movements sometimes look to folks like drains on time and energy and resources that accomplish little. So viewing that, even wanting better movements, one might skeptically or cautiously wait, hoping for better destinations for their aid to arise. Yes, it is an odd stance, and I think a wrong stance, but quite understandable.
Alternative media, however, is different. People use it avidly and know that it accomplishes far more, not less, than the allotted time, energy, and resources might reasonably be expected to achieve. In other words, alternative media is not a fools errand that will waste aid and gobble up people's time and energy to little gain - but is instead a remarkable repository of possibility - such that support would be highly likely to yield benefits, and even multiplier effects. Yet, still we balk.
On principle, Z doesn't take ads - which is to say, we don't sell you to advertisers. No rich donor gives us large or even small piles of money - another product of our politics as is the fact that no flush foundation finances us - none. ZCom isn't just alternative media, it is seriously left alternative media.
Only Z users keep us going. Partly our users buy Z subscriptions and ZVideos. But more than half our income is donations. More, if left operations, including ZCom, don't ask, people don't donate. But when left operations, including ZCom, do ask, at least some people do donate. And the more we ask, up to a point - the more people respond and the greater their response is. So here we are, asking!
Except this time - we don't want those who give every time we ask to be the only ones giving, yet again. We are incredibly indebted to their support - and so is everyone reading this essay, in fact. But like us, they need help.
So we are saying to literally tens and in fact hundreds of thousands of people who read Z but do not contribute to it - it's your turn. Not just to keep us going, but to carry us into a whole new league of operations. It is not a mark of communications sophistication or radical commitment to get all your media free (while being sold to advertisers) thereby having alternative media flounder and frazzle. It is, instead, a mark of insight and commitment to support alternative media.
Right now, the cost of supporting Z, however, is born by a relative few of our users, and this occurs not because other users don't understand the need for alternative media, or don't appreciate what Z accomplishes with what assets it has. Indeed, a random selection of those who read us online and who don't participate in any way - who don't promote the site or its contents to others, who don't contribute comments or other substance to the site, and especially who don't become a Sustainer and donate - would probably reveal, verbally, just as much hope for Z's survival and growth as could be found among a random selection of Sustainer donors, and maybe more. Despite caring comparably, that is, the overwhelmingly super super majority of users are more resistant to appeals. This is a very difficult situation to deal with, for us and for other media as well, who face a similar situation.
We feel it would be better for everyone if we could spread the load of helping us more widely among all those who want us to exist and grow, with donation levels "prorated," if you will, for each person's income level. But how can we facilitate that? Well, we provide a mechanism that lets you choose the frequency and amount of your periodic Sustainer donation. And we feel it would be better for everyone - indeed hugely better for everyone - if the number of donors were to expand - like the big bang it should actually double, and double again, and again - rapidly. And how can we facilitate that. Only by nagging - honestly, do you see some other way?
If you are a user - but you are not a Sustainer or a Free Member, and if you are in relatively good financial shape, then we hope you will become a Sustainer, thereby enjoying the benefits of Sustainer status and helping us at the same time. In fact, we urge that you do so. In fact, we emotionally - we don't have more worldly means - demand that you do so. But if helping Sustain us isn't a financial option, or if it doesn't appeal to you for some other reason, okay, fair enough - but we hope you will at least become a Free Member of ZCom, and also support some other worthy instance of alternative media.
If you are already a Free Member, and this is almost exactly 100,000 people, becoming a Sustainer can be done for as little as $12 a year, or $1 a month. Honestly, that is not a lot to spend to support something that you get considerable gain from and that gives movements and individuals around the world great benefits that you believe in, especially since your becoming a Sustainer at any level also conveys significant benefits to you.
For most Free Members, our guess is that even donating $3 a month, or $5 a month, or in quite a few cases even $10 a month, would be possible to budget and quite consistent with your own estimates of your own benefits from the site, of the increased benefits you would accrue, and especially of the value you see in having the site available for others who have less means. I mean, really, isn't ZCom worth more to you than one movie or one Pizza, and more important for you to support than movie and pizza businesses?
If hundreds of thousands of you who use ZCom, who believe in ZCom, and who know ZCom and alternative media more broadly need massive expansion, provide no material aid and no overt participation - then how are we are supposed to keep going, and to do steadily better? And ditto for all our brother and sister alternative media projects?
Many ZCom users talk often about winning a better world and routinely point out that Another World Is Possible - and by this they don't mean they want this world with a modest bandaid in place. Of course a bandaid that reduces some bleeding is better than letting the blood flow unto death. But I think it is pretty much incontestable, that in their heart of hearts, ZCom users are overwhelmingly eager for a world that is fundamentally equitable and just - not ideologically fundamentalist and poverty stricken. ZCom-ers want a world that is diversely bountiful, not ubiquitously homogenized. We want a world in which people care about other people, not where people routinely trample one another in a rat race of alienation. We seek a world that has popular participation and even collective self management, not top down rule by a few. These and many other hopes that we share are not timid wishes. We want real, profound, and indeed structurally revolutionary change in society's basic defining features. Of course it will take time. It will take perseverance. It will take commitment. And it will also most certainly take communication - including via our own media.
When we ask our Free Members - or our basic users - to give us some signs of solidarity by giving us some of the means that we need to do our work - it is a serious request. It looks garish, but in truth it is restrained. It may feel pushy, but in fact it is rather timid.
Our request is honest. It is essential. We are not going thought the motions, acting reflexively, or otherwise doing anything other than letting you know exactly how we think it is.
We need you, we urge you, and yes we even demand that you help us help ourselves and to help you.
Use ZCom's many tools as they suit you. Use its contents as they suit you. Tell others to join you in doing so. And, as well, help us to keep delivering both the services and the content - even in these very troubled times.
Become a Sustainer!