This is the Canary’s 20,000th article since we launched in October 2015. It doesn’t seem possible that we’ve released so much content in just over eight years – on average, nearly seven articles a day. Moreover, it seems unbelievable that our articles have been read 185 million times by over 40 million people worldwide. All this is true, though – but it hasn’t been easy to get to this point, and the milestone is bittersweet.
The Canary: a general election like no other
Admittedly, when the Canary properly took off in 2016 the political, media, and technological landscapes in the UK looked very different. Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party. Independent media was in its infancy. Social media was geared more towards serving its users.
All this meant that the Canary was well-positioned to be able to reach a large audience, and to provide a resilient alternative to the corporate media. The public were more interested in actual left-wing politics. Small, independent media outlets existed, but there were no big players with money behind them dominating the sector. Sites like Facebook better prioritised news on people’s timelines and in groups, meaning it was easier for us to get stories out there.
These three factors converged in the 2017 general election. Eight million people in the UK read a Canary article in the two months prior to polling day. That’s nearly 20% of the electorate; again, unbelievable when you put it in those terms. The Canary moved into the top 250 most-visited websites in the UK, and became one of the most-read media outlets – amusingly, more than the Times and the Daily Star. And, of course, Corbyn came within an inch of Number 10.
However, it was after this that everything changed.
A war on the left wing
The political class began a targeted campaign against the left wing of UK politics. Independent media became a huge landscape, incorporating numerous sites all competing for people’s attention. Facebook changed its algorithms, meaning people didn’t see nearly as much news on their timelines.
By mid-2018, the Canary was floundering. It was a victim of its own success and naivety. The bosses had designed the structure and business model around high social media traffic bringing in advertising revenue. During that year it was content related to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that was keeping the Canary afloat – Google’s algorithm had picked up on the subject, and was pushing it to the top of its news feeds.
In 2019, the general election was a very different experience. For the Canary, we no longer could reach the same number of people we had in 2017. Thanks to the political and corporate media waging war against the left wing of UK politics, independent media outlets were viewed with distrust. What’s more, the Canary was running at a financial loss.
It was after this – in 2020 – that the Canary‘s bosses redesigned how we worked, as our old model was not longer fit for purpose. Gone was the ability to quickly turn around stories at any time of the day. Instead, we worked shifts, focusing on our ‘beats’. We also became wholly reliant on a membership model of funding, as we were struggling to be read outside of our own social media and email audience.
A bittersweet milestone, an uncertain future
Since then, the Canary has been merely ticking over. That’s not to belittle the important work that so many of our writers have done, but the reality of the Canary since 2020 has been that we now speak to a small group of (sometimes) likeminded people.
Much of this has been down to ignorant mistakes and wilfully self-serving decisions made by the former bosses; decisions which led to the workers taking over in 2022.
Ultimately, the Canary‘s initial dizzying success was a product of its time – when a glimmer of hope was on the horizon of UK politics. No-one could have predicted the impact we had in 2016/2017, so no-one could have planned for it; not even those running the Canary at the time.
So, here we are. 20,000 articles later, the Canary is a very different bird to the one that was launched over seven years ago. To say that it’s bittersweet to have reached this number of articles would be fair.
It’s a testament to the work of countless writers since 2015, most of whom were individuals who not only knew how to speak to people in a way the corporate media didn’t, but were also people who had humanity at the heart of everything they did. So, for the rest of this week, we’ll be republishing some of our favourite and most-read content.
We’re proud to have reached 20,000 articles, and as writers and workers we’re proud of what we’ve done over the past seven years. We – and hopefully you – can look back in fondness and pride at what we achieved together in our prime.
Featured image via the Canary/T. A. Charron via vc.bridgew.edu