YOUR Poverty is Virtuous

You should labor mightily and for little money, so that I can admire your picturesque and quaint industry from my well-appointed sitting room:

Seven months into its bid toreinvent the metro newspaper, The Bay Citizen, the San Francisco-based nonprofit news site, has so farraised a total of $14.5 million in philanthropic gifts, rolled out daily online news and culture coverage with a 26-person-staff, and, during November, attracted a monthly audience of approximately 200,000 unique visitors. It’son track to spend $4 million during its first year.


In a world where many local nonprofit startups are shoestring operations run by refugees from downsized or shuttered metro papers, The Bay Citizen’s relatively large budget continues to attract scrutiny — and some hostility. (As a quick comparison, the national investigative nonprofitProPublica spent approximately $9.3 million last year, and the local civic news outletVoice of San Diego spent approximately $1 million.)

“I’m honestly mystified as to why so many journalist-commentators seem to think that spending real money on journalism is a bad thing,” Weber told me. “I’ve been there, and there is nothing especially virtuous about being broke.” Moreover, he said, “I would challenge anyone to take a hard look at what we do — and I mean really dive in in a serious way over a period of time — and tell me that we are wasting money.”

Right. Just for comparison’s sake, here’s what a for-profit newspaper company thinks is appropriate spending:

Mr. FitzSimons, 57, who has been with the company since 1982, became president in 2001, chief executive in 2003 and chairman in 2004.

He leaves with a total of about $15 million, which includes severance, a “gross-up” to cover taxes, and a bonus, in addition to retirement, deferred compensation and other benefits worth more than $4 million, according to an analysis by James F. Reda & Associates, a compensation consulting firm. In addition, he will cash in $19 million in stock, restricted stock grants and stock options that he would receive even if he were not leaving.

But oh, these little non-profit startups are supposed to be scrappy and poor and not at all a reasonable competitor to an actual for-profit company! They can’t have a budget that looks REAL! We can’t have that!

And before anybody goes on a wank about NONprofit, that nonprofit status doesn’t mean they don’t make any money or pay anybody. The heads of some 501c3s make and spend obscene amounts of money.

Mostly, though, I agree with Weber and it’s the attitude that everybody ELSE should be poor that makes me annoyed, and it’s a thing you see in major news commentary all the time: Rich assholes bemoaning the dearth of examples of noble poverty for them to point to in their columns. People doing a job are not your goddamn scenery, and authenticity is not conveyed by holes in one’s shoes. Romanticizing the poverty of others is just as bad as ignoring it; in neither case are you actually seeing the poor, just what they represent to YOU.

Your poverty is only a morale-building, toughening, valuable life lesson after you’re rich, and telling the story about how you used to scrounge the day-old bagel bin at the coffee shop to get through the week is either a coping mechanism or a distancing one. Either way, it doesn’t actually do shit to improve anybody else’s lot, not when you’re surviving on comparative pennies and dickheads like FitzSimons are walking away with the bank.


2 thoughts on “YOUR Poverty is Virtuous

  1. “telling the story about how you used to scrounge the day-old bagel bin at the coffee shop to get through the week”
    Or telling the story of how you used tomop floors. “I had it tough one time” is the catch-all wingnut rationale for inflicting every species of hardship on the less deserving.

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