I have, for reasons which in hindsight are hard to understand, mostly been following UK political news for the last year or so via the New Statesman‘s RSS feed. As such, I’ve also been observing what seemed to be less an editorial drift to the center than an all-out sprint, centered around the black comedy of a catechismic repudiation and monstering of the supposed “cult of Corbyn” developing in parallel with a definitely-not-at-all-cultlike-no-no-this-is-sensible-grownup-politics nice-suit-daddy deference to triangulating ham-faced Cameron clone Kier Starmer.
I had for the most part put this seeming rightward drift down to my own increasingly leftward political positionality—a sort of bad-faith inverse-false-consciousness reading on my part, so to speak. And that may well be a contributing factor. But I’d also been noticing an increasing amount of *tech start-up boosterism and sponsored material, mostly in the erstwhile feed of sister publication CityMetric, but occasionally in the NS feed as well. This too I shrugged off, because it had seemed for a while that the NS had basically forgotten its RSS feed existed, which is why it was still devoid of ads while still containing the full text of all articles; it seemed a reasonable (if necessarily unpleasant) way to monetise those old-school readers who were still getting all the content with none of the paywall outlay.
This morning, another belch of start-up circlejerkery heaved itself out of the CityMetric feed, so I clicked through to see what’s going on. What’s going on is a complete change of editorial staff, and a rebrand of that organ to something called CityMonitor.ai—and that choice of TLD set the sirens howling right away. My guess is that they’ve hocked off the old (and thus well-ranked) CityMetric domain to some *tech shill operation, and once the migration is done it’ll start cranking out consultant-drafted advertorials about “proptech”… but then again it may not be simply the domain they’ve sold off as much as the NS‘s founding principles. I quote from a page on CityMonitor.ai’s headed “Our marketing solutions”:
New Statesman Media Group is a creative media publishing company with a difference. With strong roots in both modern media and intelligence we have front row access to global media platforms, data and insight through our world-class business intelligence technology.
This access is combined with the world-class targeting technology and our long standing editorial expertise in these industries to tell your story.
We have a range of different solutions available through our LeadMonitor.ai platform we can provide for clients to help them positively impact their marketing ROI.
Ugh. I’m not sure what the “difference” they’re touting in the first paragraph might be, but it’s clearly no longer a political position, is it? I guess that explains why a publication that was founded as a leftist organ decided to take a neutral position in the 2019 election. I suspect it also explains why John Elledge, who was perhaps the last reliably left-leaning writer on the masthead (and the erstwhile head of CityMetric) shifted back into an occasional freelance role earlier this year.
To be clear, I understand the business case for this move; it’s the same imperative that saw the New Scientist sold off to some tech-world folk who thought running a magazine might be fun, and which saw the old editorial team thereof depart not long after (despite their initial confidence that nothing would change, as the new owners had claimed). The economics of a print magazine are pretty screwed, and have been for a long time. Hell, one could argue I even contributed to their demise in my own small way, as part of the manic and Jekyll-esque golden age of blogging—which, with hindsight, had a Mr. Hyde side, being also the golden age of devaluing quality writing and algorithmic advertising models. (And in the case of the NS in particular, my freeloading off the RSS feed without stumping up for a sub is a form of complicity, too.)
So no alarms and no surprises, then. (Or is it more a case of “you do it to yourself, you do / and that’s what really hurts”?) I can just kill off yet another feed in my OPML that increasingly serves only to make me angry and frustrated. (Teh Graun went the same way around 18 months ago, which resulted in an emotional lift similar in quality to that I got from quitting the birdsite, if not in quantity.) However, quite where I will get political news from That Septic Isle going forwards is now a question that lacks an answer; if anyone reading along here has any suggestions, I’d be interested to hear them.
(The temptation to just stop paying attention at all is pretty huge, but that’s exactly why I think I shouldn’t stop paying attention. As much as it’s predominantly a source of shame and confusion, I am still British, both legally and culturally, and I’ve spoken to enough of my fellow migrants to know that you can’t make that fact go away, much as you might want to. Plus the lion’s share of the people I care about are still stuck there, and the least I can do is show some sort of solidarity at a distance… even if that feels increasingly like watching a tower-block in which you used to live burn down in slow motion.)