Vermont is lauded for its news media, from its robust independent news outlets to the outsized support for its public radio stations. In a country where local news is often an extension of a multinational corporation, Vermont sees itself as an outlier.
Even so, local media does not exist in isolation, and we find ourselves in the middle of a national reckoning in journalism. We are taught that journalism and the media make up the fourth estate—holding politicians and those in power accountable, maintaining balance. This work is hailed as noble and paramount to the functioning of our democracy. And yet, news outlets are grappling with widespread loss of the public’s confidence. The public, bereft of a shared set of facts and filled with communities that have been systematically harmed by media coverage, greets journalists claiming to maintain neutrality and objectivity with heavy skepticism. In response to this faltering trust, traditional media outlets grasp for solutions, but the problems at the core of news media cannot be fixed without fundamentally changing the media’s relationship with power.
Traditional media outlets are beholden to corporations and the wealthy not only for funding, but also for the access and expertise they need to write stories. This dependence is built into the organizations’ structure. Profit-driven news organizations require investment, advertising, and subscriptions to sustain them. Some operate behind a paywall, providing news to only those who can afford it; others run sponsored stories that appear nearly identical to typical news articles. While nonprofit news organizations have a more nebulous relationship to capital, their major funding sources include corporations, local developers, politicians, and, most of all, foundations—organizations created by wealthy capitalists to avoid paying taxes while influencing policy and news. We see the effects of these business models not just in the way these organizations operate, but also in how they frame news, what stories they choose to tell, who they hire and fire, and who they treat as experts. As the news market continues to consolidate, leaving smaller papers either bought out or shuttered, the inherent deficiencies of legacy media are magnified.
Vermont has a long history of local media failing the working class. Press releases are uncritically parroted. The assertions of those in power are accepted as true. Editors often prioritize clicks above all else. Politics is transformed into horse races and palace intrigue. Scoops are published that threaten the safety and ignore requests of marginalized communities. Articles may be factual while still obscuring important and uncomfortable truths.
These practices amplify those in power, allowing them to frame conversations and to establish what is considered reasonable discourse. These organizations strive for objectivity, for including all sides of a story, and yet their coverage is constrained by inherently pro-capitalist business models and ideology.
We at The Rake Vermont are rethinking Vermont’s approach to journalism. We want working-class voices and stories at the center of our reporting, rather than sprinkled into the narrative to add a flavor of authenticity or layer of interest. Naturally, all content producers are influenced by their intended audience, and their content is shaped by their own beliefs and positions. This is inescapable. Our remedy is not to feign neutrality, but to embrace honesty. We tell you in our mission statement that
We are pro-worker, anti-capitalist Vermonters building the state’s first collectively-owned and -run media group to platform the voice of the local working class. We punch up at power by applying a broad socialist lens to educate, support, and organize workers, and to expose those with ruling-class capitalist interests and relationships—filling an integral void in the local media landscape.
Our media collective reflects the kind of society we would like to live in—one that shares power democratically and is responsive to community needs. While other outlets must bow to absentee owners, investors, or corporate interests, we are only accountable to each other and our readers. While traditional media outlets are obliged to maintain a good relationship with the ruling class to keep their organizations running, we believe that journalism’s role is to challenge those in power.
Each of us contributing to The Rake Vermont would, of course, like to believe that we arrived at our ideologies objectively, with much thought, learning, and experience. But what we see as newsworthy, who we deem to be experts, and the questions we ask are all informed by our dedication to challenging systems of oppression. We hope to give others the tools to do the same.
Thank you for joining us in this endeavor! We are always looking for contributions from the community, whether it be tips, guest writers, new members, or other forms of support and expertise. Please check out our Contact Us page for more information about how you can contribute and make sure that Vermonters’ voices are heard.