Monday 8 November 2021

Is Left Media in Decline?

"What next for alternative left media?" asks Harry Clarke-Ezzidio in The New Statesman. What indeed. Four years ago several breakthrough media outlets were the toast of the Corbynist town. Skwawkbox, The Canary, Evolve Politics, Another Angry Voice, Novara Media. Even an old fuddy-duddy like me, child of the long-faded blogging revolution was forced to comment. And today, how are things? The times have a-changed, certainly. Corbynism turned out to be an interlude, though arguably the left remains much stronger than it was before Jeremy's name was on the nomination papers. Yet the flood has visibly receded, leaving behind the parched dust bowl of Starmerism. Are these media projects beached like rusting hulks in what was the Aral Sea?

No. Harry's piece shows there's life among these breakthrough projects, and some of it is thriving. Novara, for example, is seeing subscriptions up, donations up, viewers up, and is expanding its worker collective while managing to pay staff more than the £15/hour living wage. In the immediate aftermath of the YouTube shutdown, it's in rude health. Discussing audiences with Skwawkbox's Steve Walker, he more or less admits audiences weren't what they were but is philosophical about them coming back when politics gets more favourable. Be that as it may, I'd suggest his blog occupies an unfilled niche in the media ecosystem by providing an outlet for leaks and off-the-record briefings for Labour insiders and the cognoscenti in several trade unions. The Canary, however, seems to have come off worst, going from eight million views per month to around 250,000 today. Figures I wouldn't mind, but much faded to be sure. Could we see the return to glory days at some point?

A couple of things the article doesn't touch on are worth noting. Novara is a multi-media project with a heavy emphasis on video. Double Down News and the new(ish) Owen Jones Show have the same slant, and are reaping the rewards. In other words, there's a shift from the printed word to the talking image - a strange repetition of trends online that we saw with analogue media about a century ago. There's no reason to think this won't continue. Spend 10 minutes reading an article or an hour with watching and, in some cases, interacting with a show as it's broadcast? No contest.

There are other reasons why the written output of new left media isn't pulling in the numbers that aren't reducible to politics. Firstly, work patterns have shifted for millions of workers due to Covid. Fewer people are commuting to work every day, and who might have filled their journey genning up on the latest leftist hot takes. With that reduced, some are finding other things to do at home instead. Perhaps spending more time watching broadcast news, leftist or otherwise as part of the breakfast routine. I know how much Covid has disrupted my routines, which means I don't read as much, and since Covid struck the numbers have declined here too - pretty much along the same lines as temporary audience blips every time there was a public holiday.

The second issue comes down to content. In 2017 millions of people were newly politicised and hungry for a left wing take on the big issues of the day. Four years on it's not that these audiences have lost interest in politics, though undoubtedly some are disappointed with the 2019 defeat, but that the same stuff won't cut the mustard. I'm thinking of The Canary, Evolve, and AAV here. The latter has proven adept at producing viral content for the absolutely humongous Facebook page, but the first two are doing what they've always done. The Canary posts as frequently as ever, Evolve much less so. The content remains focussed on nefarious deeds by the establishment and highlighting stories largely ignored by the mainstream, but I suspect most of its former audience simply use Twitter directly for their alternative news and analysis fix. It, like the broadcast efforts of new left media, offer the possibility of connectivity and conversation - though one might suggest the platform's well-known pathologies stifle and frustrate radical enthusiasm rather than cultivate it.

A dual picture then, a new left media of two halves with video charging forward and written journalism/opinion left in its dust. Is the latter doomed to remain the poorer? Probably - more have always tuned in to watch legacy media broadcasts than read papers, after all. The trick for any left wing writing project, whether Trot paper, a semi-obsolete blog, some sort of magazine, or a news outlet is to keep churning out fresh content regularly. Audiences will come and go with the flows of politics and the pertinence of issues, but one thing's for certain. No one will read and reflect on the information and analyses presented if leftist writers give up.

Image Credit


SomeGuy said...

Would also argue that it's a question of quality, sure the medium is important (Novara wouldn't have the reach its enjoyed without the virality of YT or even Twitter during election period / big political moments like BLM for that matter) but the success of Tribune shows that high quality analysis (same as Jacobin) is still something audiences are looking for - similarly for the podcasts like PTO, and GB's a World to Win, the in-depth stuff is still doing well rather than solely just needing a left-wing substitute for broadcast news channels. And maybe points to why Canary (more Buzzfeed-esque) hasn't stood the test of time with it's emphasis on clickbait.

Howard Reed said...

Thomas G. Clark of AAV argues that one of the main reasons for his reduced number of views since 2017 is a change to the Facebook algorithms in 2018 which reduced the visibility of his site on people's FB feeds. This could be a factor in the reduced reach of The Canary as well, as they've tended to rely heavily on FB to reach audiences. Whereas Novara have tended to use their own site (and Twitter) more.

Phil said...

Spend 10 minutes reading an article or an hour with watching and, in some cases, interacting with a show as it's broadcast? No contest.

Couldn't agree more - but you seem to be suggesting that the massive timesink is actually better than the smaller one. The numbers seem to be with you, but why? Instant gratification on Twitter plus hour-long videos seems like an odd pairing.

Shai Masot said...

Let's not forget Tribune. A jolly good read if ever there was one. Private Eye's doing well too.

Braingrass said...

I expect Tribune will one day have more subscribers than New Statesman.

Blissex said...

«Let's not forget Tribune.» «Tribune will one day have more subscribers than New Statesman»

I like Tribune too. The New Statesman is hardly "left" media, especially after the editorship of notorious mandelsonian Jason Cowley, who in an editorial painted Ed Miliband as a "trot" and wrote:
Miliband has a deterministic, quasi-Marxist analysis of our present ills. [...] And he might have to accept before long – or the electorate will force him to – that Europe’s social-democratic moment, if it ever existed, is fading into the past.

«Private Eye's doing well too»

The usually sharp "Shai Masot" seems a bit off here, as "Private Eye" is an opposition magazine, but not a "left" one; to me is seems to have a classic right-wing "whig" line. Its main role is to message that there are rotten apples who are just rotten apples, as they are exceptions, the (class) system/establishment is fine.

Anonymous said...

Yeh Private Eye is essential, but it ain't "left" by any definition.

dermot said...

Hislop really let the mask slip when Corbyn came in. He went after Jeremy with vitriol far deeper than anything he hurled at Cameron. Once you see that you can't unsee it. Was wondering what political label would sum him up? One nation Tory? Whig? But I think that

anti-establishment Establishmentarian fits him reasonably well.

Still like Paul Merton, he was good in the 90s when he was actually able to stay awake for most of the show. Zero entertainment value in watching an old man sleep on TV though. Hell, even Biden manages that.

Anonymous said...


Personally, I mostly experience Novara Media in the form of podcasts. The whole point in podcasts is that they are something you can listen to WHILE doing something else (EG: your stupid fucking job). Thus, it isn't a "timesinnk", and roughly an hour is the ideal length for it.

Alan said...

The Canary is the only one to which I pay dosh, having started to subscribe when the appalling Rachel Riley went after them.

I'm also a bit surprised by this finding that people would rather go for the interminable video of Novara Media rather than a quick read. A short video clip, fine, and Sarkar is a bright young woman, but hour-long talking heads???? (There's also the issue of NM's inglorious response to the bovine by-product about alleged antisemitism.)