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?
This interview by Freddie Sayers of Professor Johan Giesecke, one of the world’s most senior epidemiologists, who is an advisor to the Swedish Government (he hired Anders Tegnell who is currently directing Sweden’s strategy), is worth 35 minutes of your lockdown viewing time. He lays out Sweden’s thinking
His Swedish blunt logic is not an eccentricity, he was the first Chief Scientist of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and an advisor to the director general of the WHO. Guido increasingly thinks we need to move towards “climbing down the rungs” of lockdown. This eminent epidemiologist makes a convincing case that this 3 week extension should be the last unless and until there is a second wave…
The public via the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) has awarded £50,000 to Tortoise Media, the online publisher on a mission to slow down and open up journalism. It has opened up journalism by doing things like (Guido has counted them) hiring 13 people who studied at Oxford University.
The public’s money is funding live discussion events called “Think Ins”, in local newsrooms in Grimsby, Plymouth and East Marsh. Co-conspirators who have attended tell Guido they are like a liberal hand-wringing therapy session. The idea, they told NESTA in their funding application, was to “pave the way towards a sustainable future for local journalism, based on real-life conversations in communities”. How sustainable is the Tortoise model of journalism?
According to a Guido source on the inside, everyone knows it’s not working and James Harding runs it like a private fiefdom. The same source says they employ some 60 people* with a monthly wages-only bill in the hundreds of thousands. They now publish two pieces a day.
The source says
“Its whatever James Harding is interested in, and so he’s creating a magazine for himself. But his contacts and world view are so 2008. His speed dial political contact is Andrew Feldman. Him and Matthew d’Ancona are like visitors from another era. Of their claimed 26,000 members, 6,000 are people who were part of the Kickstarter campaign before they launched, 5,000 are student members, 14,000 are ‘network members’ which is a bulk buying scam where corporates buy cheap memberships for disadvantaged people who supposedly don’t have access to good media, and then they of course never log on. And 1,000 proper members, who actually read the site. Articles normally get reads measured in the hundreds, thousands is like hallelujah.”
Guido ran a comparison a few months ago which supporters said was unfair and not comparing like-with-like, so we have repeated the comparison with a like-for-like: Unherd, another not-for-profit online publisher that was also founded to do more highbrow journalism not covered so well elsewhere. Over the last 90 days this is how they have done in terms of reader visits, with only a handful of staff Unherd is beating Tortoise in readership terms by a factor of ten:
That chasm in reader numbers is not narrowing, the month of February was just as dire:
*LinkedIn says they have 82 employees.
Today sees the launch of UnHerd – a new venture edited by Tim Montgomerie. UnHerd will break the mould of traditional news services by refusing to chase the daily news cycle. The site will use the talents of its journalists to delve into and understand the key issues of our time...
The site will kick off, appropriately, with an examination of the news industry and the power it has in western culture. The launch will see the release of an original documentary ‘News in Crisis’ featuring Alastair Campbell, Sir Craig Oliver, Justin Webb and Jonathan Dimbleby. One key theme is the question of whether the BBC is overly influenced by newspapers…
Both Webb and Dimbleby concede there is an issue, with Dimbleby saying:
“The BBC looks over its shoulder at what is being written in the newspapers or online…..Partly because you don’t want to be behind the game but partly also, though I don’t think they’re correct in the way in which they put it, it is that journalists generally collude. Whether you’re a broadcaster or a writing journalist, if you’re in the lobby, if you’re in the bubble of Westminster you’re sharing information, ‘’What did he say? What did she say? What’s the story here do you think?’”
Another theme of the documentary is the tortured question of BBC impartiality, with Sir Craig concluding that:
“One of the biggest problems with the BBC was really highlighted during Brexit: that they mistook balance for impartiality. And they got to a situation where they felt, look here are two campaigns that they’re both officially recognized, today one is saying this, the other is saying that — we simply report that. I felt very strongly during that not just from the point that the Leave campaign is getting away with murder, there was also criticisms of the Remain campaign too. But the BBC should have been better than that. They should have used the expertise that they had to say — this is simply not true.”
UnHerd will also publish a YouGov survey that underlines the need for a new approach, and lays bare the extent of public scepticism. The survey finds that 54% of people think that news providers “don’t understand people like me”. 77% believe news providers are politically biased…
UnHerd has recruited a stellar collection of regular writers and big name guests from around the world. Contributors also come from all sides of the political spectrum – from Douglas Murray on the right to Ayesha Hazarika and James Bloodworth on the left; Brexit supporters like Douglas Carswell and Brexit opponents like Ian Birrell and Chris Deerin. Crucially, the cutting edge original content they provide will be free to access…
Content produced and sponsored by UnHerd
Tim Montgomerie is back in new media, the founder of ConservativeHome.com is launching UnHerd.com and hiring a big team of writers for the start-up. He has got the financial backing of Paul Marshall, the founder of Marshall Wace – one of Europe’s largest hedge fund groups. Tim tells Guido he has secured a financial commitment for 4 years.
Launching within the next few months, UnHerd.com won’t chase the breaking news because the latest things are rarely the most important. Its journalists will be given the time and will possess the skills to dive deeply into their subject areas. Together they will challenge out-of-date, incorrect and even dangerous thinking on economics, politics, technology, religion and the media. They will profile thinking and movements from around the world that do not receive the attention they deserve from the centres of political, economic and media power.
Marshall is pouring his millions into backing centrist political projects. Those of us who have followed Tim’s output over the years have detected his centre-right outlook becoming more centre and less right over the years. Nevertheless Guido wishes Tim the best of luck…