First, Hire Some Journalists and Stop Being Part of the Problem.
I used to love Medium. When friends asked me for advice about the best blogging platform, I didn’t hesitate to strongly recommend Medium first. They have the best algorithms for sharing and exposure to new writers, giving mere bloggers like me the ability to get tens of thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of views from a diverse group of readers that I simply would not be able to get if I blogged on my own site, and exposing me to new bloggers I would not have found on my own as a reader. Medium has been good to me. My top performing post was translated into Russian, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, and an audio version was produced. I didn’t have to lift a finger to make this happen. And so, had you told me a year ago that Medium would be launching a paid subscription service at merely $5 a month, I would have been first in line to sign up and would have told everyone I know. But it’s been a hell of a year; a year that has revealed that Medium is unfortunately complicit in the problems of independent media, and those problems strongly contributed to the tragedy of this election.
Medium is launching a subscription service. “the precariousness of our media ecosystem has never been more obvious — nor has our need for depth, truth-seeking, and understanding.” reads the page announcing the move. I agree wholeheartedly with that, which is precisely why I will not be supporting this endeavor. Because the thing is, Medium regularly promotes pieces that achieve the opposite of that mission.
I understand that because anyone can blog at Medium, they are not responsible for what gets published there, certainly not directly responsible for what gets potentially thousands of shares or recommends. However, they must be held responsible for what they choose to actively promote. Speaking as someone who has enjoyed the recommendation of Medium Staff on my own pieces, this is difficult to say. But if Medium is going to promote political writing — especially at a time like this — it must hire some fact checkers and actual journalists to screen those stories it decides to promote before it bestows them on an impressionable public.
If Medium is going to promote political writing — especially at a time like this — it must hire some fact checkers and actual journalists.
English majors are not qualified to fact check political analysis. I know this because as an art major (who started out as an English major) I am not qualified either. Which makes it that much more egregious when a piece that contains obviously debunked information (that can be easily checked by a high schooler who knows how to use Snopes) gets not only recommended by Medium Staff but promoted in multiple other ways too; from Editor’s Picks on up. When Medium does this, Medium is directly contributing to the spread of willful misinformation that has precisely the disastrous consequences Americans have been reeling from over the past few months.
No piece of Medium writing exemplifies this problem like the anti-intellectual “Dear Democrats, Read This If You Do Not Understand Why Trump Won,” a piece with a whoppingly depressing ten thousand recommends and presumably millions of views, yet comprised of the thoughtless and reactionary tone and tenor of an extended alt-left YouTube rant, and containing multiple statements that are simply factually untrue. Not only did this piece receive the recommendation of Medium Staff, Medium promoted the hell out of it and named it among their top stories of 2016. When Medium does this, Medium is actively demonstrating that it needs depth, truth-seeking, and understanding, and doesn’t know where to look for it.
Mainstream media has its problems, but the fact that it is overwhelmingly held to higher standards makes it a lesser threat. If the New York Times makes a mistake, there is outrage and they have to deal with it. If someone on Medium writes something riddled with falsehoods, no one is held responsible. The tragedy of independent media — so important to exist in theory yet so often embarrassing in execution — is that a thousand short-lived thinkpieces claiming the earth is flat become the proverbial many-headed snake, which is why it is so hard to fight. And taken together, they can do all the damage of Breitbart and then some.
Does traditional media publish opinion pieces I disagree with? All the time. But they are labelled as such, and more importantly, they wouldn’t publish an opinion piece that made several statements that were as obviously and painfully untrue. If Medium wants to solve their financial problems, Medium should do the work necessary to be taken seriously by people who are willing to pay for that work. We pay for the New Yorker and the New York Times because those institutions deserve to be paid for the solid work they clearly do in abundance, and because without them, society would devolve further into the muddy abyss where subjectivity reigns; an atmosphere, by the way, that makes it easy for those in power to commit atrocities.
I’d rather see Medium fail and have to write elsewhere, than see them become the Breitbart of the Left.
Independent Media being good in theory AND good in execution just needs guidance and standards. It would be nice if an entity existed to step up to that challenge. Medium has so much potential to become that, but thus far, that’s all they’ve got. I considered paying $5 a month just to support the company where my own writing currently resides, but the thing is, I’d rather see Medium fail and have to write elsewhere, than see them become the Breitbart of the Left just in time for the next election. And if you think leftists would never go down that path, you haven’t been paying attention to the depressing reality that plenty of them already have.