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Media Alert 20 Feb

A round-up of the hottest takes from the best UK Indy Media


In this week’s edition of Media Alert:

  • The Details of a Russian ‘Troll Factory”
  • An increase in People Paying for Online News
  • Media Democracy Festival
  • Our Picks of the Week

Media Alert is a weekly bulletin discussing issues impacting on the UK independent media and highlighting some of the best recent work from the sector.

It’s brought to you by The Media Fund, a co-operative of over 30 partners seeking to raise funds and advocate for quality independent journalism.


The Weeks Big Stories

Essential new from the frontlines of media politics

Russian Indictment Highlight Reach of Bogus Social Media

Last week indictments against 13 Russians for interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election is a fascinating read.

Vital for social media watchers are the details of the multi-million-pound operation co-ordinated at The Saint Petersburg based Internet Research Agency. It’s more casually referred to as a “troll factory”, but this wasn’t just a few people tapping away from a basement in their free time.

The level of sophistication is striking, with multiple bank accounts and departments for such tasks as graphics, data analysis, and search-engine optimisation, with special attention for YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. A mission statement declared the operation to be “information warfare”.

Identities were stolen in order for people to pose as US activists, especially targeting key swing-states in The Electoral College. Fake grassroots organisations (“astroturf”) were established in the US, with activities extending beyond the cyber-realm into the organisation of real-life demonstrations.

The Russian newspaper, Novara Gazeta reported that a job ad had been placed in 2013 offering round the clock shifts, with free meals and a “chic” working environment. Tasks included writing blogs and social media comments, with at least 1000 people employed to make hundreds of posts per day.

Former employees have come forward to verify the allegations in the indictment, already backed by Grand Jury as a matter of due process under US law.

The details and scale of this operation are very important because social media is such a huge factor in many people’s political awareness and opinion forming. US intelligence officials have confirmed that the activity is ongoing and it’s well known that this kind of operation also targets the UK, for instance in the 2016 EU referendum.

It should be said that the CIA and other intelligence operations are at least as likely to get up to such shenanigans themselves, having disrupted the internal affairs of other countries for generations. However, the story underlines the urgent needs to build a robust, trusted and well resourced independent media in the UK, because it’s clearly not only the billionaire and establishment media who are seeking to mislead us at every turn.


Uptick in Paid Subscriptions

The inevitability of social media replacing print media is no surprise, especially in the realm of free content. But evidence that traditional newspapers are now garnering more paid subscriptions than from physical sales is significant.

Last week, The Finacial Times reported that digital subscriptions now account for three-quarters of it’s paying audience.

Although the FT may appeal to people who might easily afford such payment, this is still a sign that resistance to paying for digital news may be dissolving.

However, the challenge for independent platforms is greater. As we’ve said before at The Media Fund, the US has long had a strong patronage culture for such output which has generally been absent in the UK. such platforms probably have to be of a standard and appeal are at least equal to those of their wealthier establishment counterparts. To that end, this recent research from Nieman provides some very solid advice.


Book Now for Media Democracy Festival

The Campaign For Press and Broadcasting Freedom are hosting a festival on March 17th with tons of great speakers around the topic fixing our media.

The Media Democracy Festival will be a national gathering open to the public, bringing together media democracy campaigners, researchers and citizens to take part in talks and discussions on issues from media racism, to alternative models of media funding, ownership, and control, to the running and independence of the BBC. It aims to help build the movement for democratic and accountable media.

Please pass details around.

Picks of the Week

Our hand-picked selections from some of the best independent journalism around

 Can Radical Social Democracy Save Us? – Open Democracy

Politics has drifted so far to the right that social democracy has been re-categorised as “far-left”. This great talk by Paul Mason, brought to us by Open Democracy and New Economics Foundation, urges us to consider the role for radical social democracy in a world where Neo-Liberalism and Blair/Clinton “triangulation” has opened the door to hard-right authoritarians by failing huge swathes of the population.

Find Open Democracy on Twitter @openDemocracy


Press Sustainability Review: A Total Sham, Part 2 – Julian Petley, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom

The second part of CPBF‘s commentary on The Press Sustainability review announced by the Government focuses on the sorry state of the UK’s local press. Professor John Petley (Brunel), echoes many of the sentiments we have expressed here at The Media Fund: disdain for the shocking decline in the number of local journalists, concern about the low salaries of few journalists who remain, and befuddlement at newspaper giants’ claims of being ‘local’, when they are often in fact located in distant “regional hubs”.

Find The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom on Twitter @cpbfreedom


Timeline of a Tory Lie – Douglas James, The Dorset Eye

The establishment media have spent the past week obsessing about something Corbyn may or may not have said to a Czech diplomat decades ago. It could be a variation of the Zinoviev Letter hoax of the 1920s. Dorset Eye put together a handy guide that is considerably shorter than this write-up!

Find The Dorset Eye on Twitter @dorset_eye

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