The business model for news organisations is fundamentally broken. Sales of paper newspapers and magazines are collapsing. Every week there is another story about an established (usually local) newspaper going out of business. Now that our news reading has shifted online, there is simply less money in news than there used to be.
A business model based on online advertising does not provide enough income to sustain large news organisations such as the Independent, which ceased its paper copy last year. This business model does favour smaller, online-only organisations that have lower overheads and don’t mind putting large amounts of adverts on their sites. They get most of their traffic from social media sites and write for this audience. Their output covers a broad spectrum. At one end are important stories that would not find a place in a traditional newspaper, but do have an audience online. At the other end are clickbait stories that demand the user’s attention but provide little of value to them.
Recently, I have written about the deficit in self-criticism on the far left. This, combined with the fact that social media sites filter back to users more of what they like (and don’t challenge them), and the collapse of the business models of the established bugles of the left, has created a space for smaller, leaner, less critical left wing news sites. These sites take advantage of social media’s algorithms to drive traffic to them, where they sell adverts. All this means that left wing click bait has become the order of the day.
What does all this mean for the left, the far left and media in general? Firstly, it has meant a growth in websites that are very pro-Corbyn. Sometimes embarrassingly so. I am pretty sure that is not the cutest video of the summer as I found this after about 30 seconds on YouTube. Even so, a news site fawning over a politician is not new, and unless you think that Corbyn is as bad as Stalin, then this sort of thing is just a little silly.
It should also be said that some of these sites do write good content aimed at informing people who don't like the way things are going and think that Corbyn is the person to sort it out. This is a general feeling a lot of people have and educating these people about the social problems in Britain faces can only make the left stronger. Novara Media is a website that I would put into this category. It has interesting articles on diverse topics on the far left or about politics such as this one about cuts to BME refuges.
Some of these sites are bad for the left in general. They spread conspiracy theories (such as the idea that Portland Communications had a role in the resignations of Corbyn’s cabinet in 2016) and outright lies - such as one website accusing Owen Smith of beating his wife. Sites such as Squawk Box have made up stories about gag orders and spread paranoia on the far left. A lot of their content is read very uncritically.
Worse still are news organisations directly aligned to totalitarian regimes, such as Russia Today (a pro-Putin news source) and Press TV (owned by the Iranian government, fined for broadcasting an interview with a journalist conducted "under duress" and banned in the UK for breaching the Communications Act). These sites distribute their content to far left or pro-Corbyn audiences on Facebook or Twitter (sometimes using the cover of social media accounts supposedly affiliated with the hacker group Anonymous - remember, anyone can claim to be in Anonymous as no one knows who they are really are).
These arms of totalitarian regimes intend to undermine western governments by seeding content that paints them in a positive light and is critical of our governments (usually our government's policies towards said regimes) through social media to audiences that are pro-Corbyn or on the far left. Many people in these audiences are not critical of a news source that supports their beliefs and backs up their emotional view of what is wrong with the world.
Aside from the sites that are actively pro-Russia or pro-Iran (I hope that we can all agree that those are bad) what is wrong with all this? Isn't this just another echo chamber, a left wing Daily Express or Daily Mail? Yes, the right does this at least as badly, but I had hoped that on the left we would be better. I had hoped that we would be interested in serious debate and not just want propaganda that backs up our worldview uncritically.
This hyper-partisan content is also contributing to the divide on the left. We have enough splits between pro or anti-Corbyn, town and country, etc. This echo chamber, only reflecting a narrow sub-section of the left that we already agree with back at us encourages us to be suspicious of people who think differently and divides us off into our own little cells.
Above all, the spread of lies and conspiracy theories will undermine us in the long run. I have no interest in reading propaganda. We’re not children who cannot handle an opinion that is critical of our worldview. I expect better than this.
It's good to read a wide variety of different news sources and not always rely on the output of a few well-established media brands. It is also good to be critical of the media you consume and think about its biases. However, I feel that on the left we fail to consider the biases or flaws in stories that broadly agree with our worldview. There are plenty of news organisation out there that are willing to exploit this. Some simply to take financial advantage of the changes to the media industry from digitisation. Others have much more sinister motives.
I am not trying to say that we shouldn't read alt-left or new independent news sites. I am just concerned about how uncritically this media is consumed. We can be better than this. We can engage with complex problems and political debates, not just have what we believe filtered back to us. It is important to always be open minded and to always read from a variety of sources that get every side of a story.