Wednesday 24 August 2016

The independent media revolution

There is an independent media revolution going on. The mainstream press have been very slow to cotton onto the fact that independent media is having an ever increasing influence on the spectrum of political debate, but they seem to be catching up a little bit now.

Before social media

Back in 1997 a young Tony Blair stormed to power with one of the biggest landslide victories in British history. A lot of people within the current Labour Party hark back to the Blairite era as if Blairism is some kind of magical election winning formula, but they're apparently incapable of understanding that Blair's formula for success simply isn't fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell worked out a strategy for stage managing the mainstream media news agenda, and to be fair to them it was spectacularly successful. They drip-fed press releases to the mainstream media that were essentially pre-written stories, and relied on lazy mainstream media hacks to "churnalise" the hand-picked stories of the day. If they wanted the public to hear a particular snazzy little sound bite, or think about a specific statistic, the Labour Party spin doctors fed them into the mainstream media machine and waited for it to churn out item after item about it.

The Blairite model worked a treat in the 1990s because it was common for people to rely on just a few mainstream media news sources for their information. People generally stuck to the same newspaper, and had the same entrenched habits in relation to broadcast news too. In those days it was relatively easy to stage manage the news agenda because if the newspapers, the BBC and commercial radio stations and the TV news shows all recycled the hand-picked stories, then there was obviously very little scope for alternative takes on the news agenda to reach mainstream audiences.

The spread of the Internet and the growth in social media platforms has led to a huge change in the way that people consume political news. Blairite efforts to stage manage the news agenda simply can't work any more because people don't just read one newspaper or listen to one radio station anymore. These days anyone with a social media account is bombarded with news stories from a kaleidoscope of different sources.

The early Internet age

In the early days alternative media sources generally flew well under the mainstream media radar.

As social media use gradually became established as a social norm the press did address the subject, but often from a very pompous perspective. Leftie liberal columnists sneered at social media users from above, and right-wing tabloid columnists sneered at it with a great big chip on their shoulder, but few of them had the foresight to recognise that social media would soon end completely revolutionising the way that journalism works.

Thinking back to those early days of social media and the sneering editorials from the mainstream press pack, it's impossible not to appreciate the irony that all mainstream media publications and the overwhelming majority of mainstream journalists have Twitter and/or Facebook profiles these days.

Burn it, burn it with fire

Mainstream journalists gradually begun to realise that there is a growing demographic of people who rely on social media as their primary news source.

The initial reaction was one of abject horror at the realisation that their role as gatekeepers of the news agenda was under existential threat.

This terrified reaction was exemplified by a November 2014 "debate" on the BBC Daily Politics show featuring five mainstream media journalists bitterly slagging off social media, without a single representative to actually argue the case for social media!

The Daily Politics piece focused on a misleading infographic contrasting several completely accurate pictures of sparsely attended parliamentary debates on important subjects with jam-packed debates claiming to be from parliamentary sessions about MPs pay and perks.

The BBC correctly identified the fact that the jam-packed images of parliament were not what they were claimed to be, but completely failed to explain the important context that the images had originally been misleadingly used by mainstream media outlets (the Telegraph and the BBC) to illustrate online articles about MPs expenses debates!

They were so busy tearing into social media for being irresponsible, and pleading with their audience to stick with established news formats, that they forgot to even mention that the misleading images that they were spitting blood about actually originated in the mainstream press!

Changing attitudes

After over five years of running Another Angry Voice, and at least a couple of years of being one of the most visible non-mainstream UK political writers on Facebook, I finally got my first ever mention on the BBC when Kerry-Anne Mendoza (the editor of The Canary) gave me a shout out on Newsnight in August 2016 during a piece about the right-wing bias of the mainstream press.

Here is an extracts from the interview:

"What we're trying to do, and becoming increasingly successful in doing, is challenging some of these dominant [mainstream media] narratives. We have a situation in this country where 81% of the mainstream media is owned by six corporations and most of the journalists who staff them went to a handful of universities and graduated about six inches to the left or the right of each other politically. So this little gap between them becomes the minuscule arena for political debate in this country, and anyone who operates outside of that is either mocked, ignored, ridiculed or derided as some sort of mad, bad and dangerous person ... and that's a crisis."
The host Kirsty Wark was determined not to give Kerry-Anne an easy time, rudely interrupting her on more than one occasion, brazenly misrepresenting the above quotation as a determination to "back Jeremy Corbyn to the hilt" and then hurling the accusation that she is "not in any way objective", which is quite something from a BBC presenter for several reasons.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, anyone who claims that they or their organisation is completely unbiased is lying to you because the only form of pure neutrality is complete apathy. Kirsty Wark has as much of an agenda as Kerry-Anne Mendoza, but she is capable of deluding herself that she's speaking from a pillar of unbiased objectivity because she's floating along with the mainstream media tide, rather than actively swimming against it.

If you still believe in the myth of BBC objectivity just speak to someone Scottish about what the BBC's independence referendum coverage was like, or consider the fact that an academic study found that the BBC Six O'Clock news was extraordinarily biased against Jeremy Corbyn during the first week of the Anyone But Corbyn coup attempt, or consider the fact that just a couple of years ago the BBC ran a piece contrasting social media with the establishment media with five mainstream media representatives and nobody from social media at all!

The thing that has undeniably changed since 2014 is that the reach of alternative media is now getting so big that the mainstream media can't simply ignore us anymore. Kerry-Anne Mendoza put it into perspective during the Newsnight interview when she pointed out that despite not even being a year old, The Canary has already surpassed long established political news sources like The Spectator, New Statesman and The Economist in web traffic. There is an independent media revolution going on, and a lot of mainstream journalists have clearly been caught off guard by it.

Continued hostility

There are clearly an awful lot of mainstream journalists who feel threatened by the growth of independent media. This attitude can be seen in the sneering contempt for The Canary that has become oh-so-fashionable. The idea that the arguments of the myriad different writers who contribute to The Canary can all be glibly dismissed because "The Canary is just biased leftie rubbish" is an intellectually lazy attitude that is being spread by right-wing hacks like Michael Deaton in the Daily Telegraph. 

This kind of ridicule is endlessly repeated by mainstream media rote learners who consider such glib dismissals to be dynamite debate winning tactics, rather than cognitively lazy drivel that actually demonstrates a fear of considering and attempting to critique things that exist outside of the comforting mainstream media spectrum of debate.

The interruptions and blatant misrepresentations from Kirsty Wark during the Newsnight interview were another demonstration of this hostility to independent journalism from mainstream journalists who can see the tide changing, but really don't like the threat it represents to the established way of doing things.

The independent media revolution

There are ever increasing numbers of people who choose to obtain their political news from independent sites where the writers can write what they like without fear of reprisals from the editor, media mogul owner or advertisers.

Several high profile journalists like Paul Mason on the left and Peter Oborne on the right have abandoned their lucrative mainstream media platforms for the greater degree of editorial freedom afforded by independence. 

The mediascape is evolving increasingly quickly and it seems inevitable that independent journalists are going to continue playing an ever increasing role in confronting the established, press baron and corporate advertiser approved mainstream media narratives.

Aside from the conversion of big-hitters like Paul Mason and Peter Oborne, the ongoing independent media revolution has allowed people like me (who would likely never have found the opportunity to write for a mainstream newspaper) and countless others to actually have a voice.

Of course the content is hit and miss. Some of the articles in the Canary are as poor as others are excellent. Of course my self-edited blog features regular spelling errors and formatting problems. But I challenge anyone to point me to a newspaper or television channel where the content is 100% faultless.

Whatever the news source, it's inevitable that the quality of the content is going to be variable, but at least if you're reading my blog, Tom Pride, Craig Murray, Wings Over ScotlandJohnny Void, Vox Political or some writer on The Canary you know that we're expressing our own free opinions, rather than some compromised opinion that has to comply with the political agenda of some sociopathic tax-dodging press baron, bullying editor or the multitude of multinational corporations that advertise in their propaganda sheets.

If you want to help to support this shift away from a news agenda dominated by complacent hacks who churn out copy for billionaire media moguls (being careful not to offend their advertisers or the foibles of their editors) you can get involved.

If you would like to see a change towards genuinely independent journalism, where journalists have the editorial freedom to say things the way they see them, then you could consider setting up small monthly subscriptions to support the work of the independent journalists you like.

By setting up a small monthly donation to some of the independent writers and websites that you enjoy, you could help to support the media diversification that is absolutely necessary in order to stop the political agenda being dictated by the BBC (who will always remain biased in favour of the government of the day who get to hold their purse strings) and a tiny bunch of (savagely right-wing) billionaire media moguls.

millions of people have quit reading newspapers over the last decade. If just a small fraction of them were to set aside the equivalent of 50p a day or whatever to support the independent journalists and websites they like, the cumulative amount would be an enormous boost to independent media.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.