Iain Martin's Letter

The transformation of media and how to support Reaction

BY Iain Martin | iainmartin1   /  17 February 2017

This is the last free edition of my weekly newsletter for Reaction, the site I edit. As of next week it will be for subscribing members only. Details of how to sign up for Reaction membership are below.

First, let me explain what we’re about.

Since a small team launched Reaction in June with the help of generous supporters – and a magnificent band of writers – a lot has happened. Britain voted for Brexit, Leicester won the UK’s Premier League (football) and Donald Trump became US President (cage fighting). If you had placed an accumulator bet on those three outcomes and laid a decent wager you would by now be extremely rich. The odds were long because the events were thought individually, and cumulatively, extremely unlikely. But it all came to pass in under six months, a reminder that we live in an era of fast-moving and discombobulating populist change in which it is sometimes difficult to work out which way is up and which way down.

There are few industries changing faster than media. This is not a complaint about how the world owes journalists a living. It doesn’t.

Here one could try a charity ad campaign featuring leading journalists looking forlornly at the camera: “This journalist has been forced to drink vin de pays. He hasn’t had a decent claret in months. Help save journalism. Invest in lunch. Your donation can make a big difference.” It would not get many takers, rightly. Only media outlets that embrace the changes intelligently and provide what readers need will have a right to thrive.

Indeed, there is no more point moaning about digital disrupting the news business than there was lamenting the invention of the steam engine. The digital revolution is happening, and it brings with it a host of upsides (convenience, pooling knowledge, sites such as Guido, erosion of hierarchy, cat videos) as well as the downsides about which we hear so much in the era of “fake news” panic.

There’s a big problem though, that has become even more apparent since the US election and the Brexit vote.

Surely we need smart insights to try and make sense of these changes and to understand the opportunities and risks? And hopefully we can be entertained along the way¬†with fine writing. But how, then, will such quality commentary/analysis (Reaction’s goal) be funded?

Some are trying charitable efforts. Think tanks are trying to branch into the media business. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

But only a handful of old-school and experienced media owners worked out years ago that the fetishisation of “free” was a mirage and a disaster for journalism, and that online advertising was of diminishing value anyway. They sensibly opted to charge readers, to pay for journalism, which at least offers some defence against the rise of the digital giants, including the world’s two biggest advertising businesses, Facebook and Google, that hoover up ever more of the advertising spend.

The biggest new media start-ups scoffed at the idea of the pay-wall and payments. Hundreds of millions of dollars, billions even, were raised from investors by those pushing sites with random, hipsterish names. The assumption was that pouring in massive resources would leverage enormous scale, ad revenue and returns. Some are making money. Most are not. Out of it has emerged little that adds to the sum total of knowledge. A lot will go bust.

Better, and much more satisfying surely, to try to build from the ground up an interesting, useful, stimulating and hopefully amusing outlet that is fun to write and read. That provides insight into politics, economics, current affairs, technology and culture.

That is why a small team of us launched Reaction, and we have been gratified by the feedback from a growing band of readers.

Now we are asking those who read us to support what we do by becoming members, so we can grow Reaction to the point that it pays a wide range of good writers dedicated to explaining the world from a pro-market but broad church perspective.

You can click here to become a member of Reaction if you like what we do and want to support expansion.

The cost? Only 75p per week by direct debit.

For that you get:

– My weekly newsletter on politics and global affairs

– Unlimited access to Reaction, including subscriber only content.

– Invitations to member events and discussions featuring leading journalists, politicians and authors.

As we grow there will be more services and sections developed and added. This month our team launches books pages, reviewing the latest works and highlighting worthwhile classics. This week we’re introducing some cultural reviews and there is much, much more to come.

Thank you for reading. Have a good weekend.

Support Reaction, become a member here.