Fund the media you want to see in the world

Letter from the publisher

A year ago, we mailed a cheeky letter to Briarpatch subscribers that I still think about. The letter announced we were selling out, and that “[from] here on out our pages will be filled with advertisements for Enbridge pipelines, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, and luxury wristwatches.” It went on like that for a bit, before we let readers know that it was, of course, a joke.

Briarpatch is committed to being independent, and to being a thorn in the side of colonial, capitalist forces of exploitation – not a bootlicking corporate rag.

But I want to admit something. Sometimes, I look at the media kits of big corporate publications just to note their ad prices. For example, in Air Canada’s inflight magazine, enRoute, the price of just five ad placements is more than Briarpatch’s entire annual budget. Yes, I’m disgusted by this fact, but I’m also a bit jealous.

Big companies and the politicians who do their bidding understand something very simple: messages matter, and in general you need to spend money to get audiences seeing and hearing your messages.

Oil companies, real estate developers, and mining multinationals spend millions of dollars on ads and advertorials* because they know that it’s an effective way to sway public opinion, and shape what we believe is acceptable.

We hear that despite being in a climate emergency, we need this or that pipeline. We read that despite a hugely profitable diamond mine operating for years beside a First Nation that has been on a boil-water advisory for just as long, somehow this company is good for First Nations because they give a tiny amount of money to some completely inadequate community programs. We see headlines that a conservative politician who cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in health-care funding is somehow “looking out for kids” because they raise a few thousand dollars at a charity event.

To cut through the misinformation, to show what’s going on behind the corporate public relations spin, and to discuss real strategies for taking on the big problems of our time, we need our own sources of independent media.

People running corporations understand the effectiveness of this media manipulation. The right, in general, understands this.

What I wonder is: does the left understand the importance of funding media? And do we put money into the media we want to see exist?

To cut through the misinformation, to show what’s going on behind the corporate public relations spin, and to discuss real strategies for taking on the big problems of our time, we need our own sources of independent media.

When I talk with people who run independent publications similar to Briarpatch, I hear again and again that their finances are dire. Subscriptions are down, costs are up, and fundraising campaigns aren’t bringing in the money they used to. Some publications are closing up shop, some have been reduced to one staff member, while others are subject to the whims of a few large funders they’re terrified of pissing off.

At Briarpatch, by hustling hard and having such loyal and generous supporters for so many years, we have two full-time staff, we recently doubled the rates we pay our contributors, and in my opinion we’re putting out great content. Our base of over 200 monthly donors, whom we call sustainers, gives us a broad foundation of support, and no one person or group holds sway over what we do. But we brought in less money from our sustainers and one-time donors last year than the year before. We are constantly dipping into our line of credit, and if the trend of last year continues, if a fundraising campaign doesn’t go well, or if a few advertisers all of a sudden stop advertising with us, we’d be in trouble.

These are problems that marketing departments at oil companies don’t have.

So the thought I want to leave you with is this: fund the media you want to see in the world.

That’s the media that will have a much better chance of surviving and thriving. There are several wonderful independent publications just scraping by – Canadian Dimension, GUTS Magazine, and THIS Magazine are a few of our favourites – that benefit a whole lot from every single dollar. Briarpatch has fewer than 300 monthly donors, people committed to keeping Briarpatch on the media landscape for the long haul. Meanwhile, over 150,000 people visited our website last year, and viewed pages over 285,000 times. If everyone who read Briarpatch online over the last year gave just $10, we could hire about 30 new staff.

What this boils down to is simple: we fund the media we want, or we watch it disappear.

*Advertorials are articles, videos, or other media in a publication that appear not to look like ads, but which are paid for directly by another company, often to give themselves favourable media coverage.

David Gray-Donald is a settler media worker in tkaronto (Toronto). He was the publisher of Briarpatch from 2017-2019, is the current publisher of The Grind magazine in Toronto, and is a co-author of the new book The End of This World: Climate Justice in So-called Canada. He worked as a climate campaigner at Environmental Defence from 2022 to March 2023. 

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