An article in this week’s New Statesman (“In the Post-Corbyn World, What Next for Alternative Left Media?“) spurred Guido to do some research into their traffic and how they are performing generally. The short answer is not very well in terms of raw audience size. In comparison to right-of-centre political news and opinion sites they are well behind. Like-for-like The Spectator has double the New Statesman’s readership. To give you an idea how much worse they are faring after the Corbyn-era glory days, consider this, Toby Young’s Daily Sceptic alone had last month more online readers than the New Statesman, Novara Media and Morning Star combined!
Even the upstart newly launched GB News website has more traffic than most left-wing websites and those same websites say GB News is failing. The question that needs answering is why are right-of-centre news and views outlets out-performing – in terms of audience reach – left-of-centre news and views websites? Some of them will argue that we’re looking in the wrong place – the audience is not just on their website. The Canary and Skwawkbox generate engagement on Facebook which outstrips their own native website audience by a multiple. Novara Media’s videos and podcasts are apparently seen by far more viewers and listeners than will read their articles. Owen Jones has his own lucrative YouTube channel. Of course GB News has a television channel so can’t be compared like-for-like, it also has an active online video audience, as do the Spectator and Unherd. They match the left for reach, similarly they tend to preach to the converted. The only place where the left-wing media seems dominant is on social media, Twitter in particular.
Is the left’s supposed dominance of Twitter entirely true? The left are are certainly more active on Twitter, in terms of followers however @GuidoFawkes has more than any of the left-wing politics sites. Academic research suggests that left-wing Twitter is more active and that activity is mainly preaching to the converted and engaging with other left-wingers. The left is more active on Twitter undoubtedly and it gives the micro-blogging site a hostile atmosphere for right-of-centre users, however election after election shows that, in the words of David Cameron, “Britain is not Twitter”. As the SNP’s Cyber-Nats demonstrate all too loudly, ferocious activity is not evidence of numbers.
Is it money? The New Statesman is backed by Mike Danson, a billionaire willing to bankroll the millions in annual losses of the magazine without flinching. Novara Media got funding from a foundation backed by millionaire philanthropists, Tribune Magazine has the backing of an American publisher. The healthy tradition on the left of funding publications from readers’ donations means Novara Media and Owen Jones have six-figure revenues and paid staff, on the right only Toby Young’s Daily Sceptic is funded likewise. The Spectator and Guido Fawkes are profit-making commercially competitive media enterprises that stand on their own two feet, they are also read in droves by left-of-centre readers who don’t share their editorial line for the news, gossip and entertainment, whereas few right-of-centre readers would enjoy reading the dreary ideological output of most left-wing publications. Funding isn’t the problem.
Perhaps the answer is simply that the likes of the Guardian, Daily Mirror, Buzzfeed News, Huffington Post and the BBC provide most left-of-centre news consumers with satisfactory confirmation of their prejudices such that they just don’t have to venture out to the alt-left for content that appeals. Is it just that in the wider media context it is harder for the alt-left to appeal beyond an ideological core readership?