The broad acceptance of remote working during the pandemic coupled with new digital distribution platforms has made it easier for startup media brands to challenge the dominance of established media organisations. Lack of public trust in the media has primed audiences to give these upstarts a chance, but there are worries that they will fuel production of click-bait.
- Axios reports media personalities gaining traction online by targeting their output at audiences who feel ‘disillusioned by the mainstream press’. The so-called corporate media backlash rests on digital distribution platforms that enable individuals to self-publish information that is often critical of established organisations.
- Personalities that have recently set up their own startup media ventures are promoting their platforms – newsletters, podcasts and YouTube shows – as alternatives to the ‘institutional media’. High profile examples include Glen Greenwald formerly of the Intercept and Mathew Yglesias, formerly of Vox Media.
- Saagar Enjeti and Krystal Ball both left The Hill newspapers Rising show to start the “Breaking Points” YouTube show in which they routinely criticise the mainstream media. Breaking Points has gained more than half a million subscribers in just over a month, ranking in the top 10 news podcasts on Apple Podcasts in the US.
Trust drives traffic
- Enjeti said the previous success of Rising was due to trust in himself and his co-host. “People weren’t coming to it because it said ‘The Hill’ on the top,” Enjeti recently noted, referring to their former show. “They were coming to it because they trusted us. And that is the thing — that’s the keystone of the entire new media ecosystem.”
- Former New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss left with the aim of publishing ‘the best opinion page in the country’. She echoed Enjeti’s sentiments when she launched her Substack in April: “The trust I build with you is based on getting things right. Not a fancy brand name.”
- The Dispatch substack has more than 150,000 subscribers, 30,000 paying. CEO and editor Steve Hayes highlights the role played by newsletter and podcast formats in the success of individual creators. “There’s an intimacy about so-called ‘pushed content’ — the newsletters and podcasts — that enhances trust in an era where trust is vanishing.”
Outrage drives traffic
While the growth of some creator-led media platforms is impressive, the reliance of many on attention grabbing opinions that can stoke social division is concerning to some commentators.
“Unfortunately for society as a whole, one of the best ways to monetize engagement on the internet is by generating rage,” writes Murtaza Hussain in the Intercept in a review of the book ‘Postjournalism and the Death of Newspapers’.
The emergence of platforms that allow audiences to find content more aligned with their interests and opinions is a positive thing. However, when a creator-led ecosystem relies on audience engagement at scale, that can lead to creators publishing click-bait.
Writing in the Atlantic, Helen Lewis says: “Writers are motivated to follow their worst instincts, aware that every time they choose to write something nutritious but uncontroversial, their bottom line takes a hit.”