What use is the newspaper to the left?

Taken from Challenge Magazine:

Since what feels like the dawn of time the left has always used newspapers to propagate ideas and concepts, to win over ideas in the war of ideology and to protest injustice. Something that is undeniable is that they have been a massively consequential force in the history of the left. However with the age of social media and the rapid decline in newspaper readership to what use are they?

It was Vladimir Lenin who said;

“But this work is unthinkable in present-day Russia without an all-Russia newspaper, issued very frequently. The organisation, which will form round this newspaper, the organisation of its collaborators (in the broad sense of the word, i.e., all those working for it), will be ready for everything, from upholding the honour, the prestige, and the continuity of the Party in periods of acute revolutionary “depression” to preparing for, appointing the time for, and carrying out the nation-wide armed uprising.”

Lenin is correct. To be able to have a direction of the movement and a visible discussion in writing of the progress of the movement is crucial to its development. However, what is also true is that Lenin would not have been able to see the progression of communication and information to what it has become today.

When reading the writings of Lenin around propaganda and its influence on the working class, one of the key points that is consistently made is that the paper must be able to be accessible to the working class. Lenin said “Why instead of turning out 200-400 lines, don’t we write twenty or even ten lines on such simple, generally known, clear topics with which the people are already fairly well acquainted”. It is evident that in order to propagate our ideas they need to be consumable. It is obviously not always practical for us to publish a 500 page book on our ideas and principles which is why previously the format of the newspaper proved to be an incredibly useful tool. Practical discussion and information needs to be had in a digestible format.

Another factor that needs to be considered when discussing the purpose of the newspaper to the left is its drop in demand. Although older generations are still willing to cling onto the printed medium, most young people have no interest in getting their news from physical papers. For teenagers especially, newspaper readership is at a historical low, dropping from 19% to 13% in the past 5 years. On top of this, newspaper sales in Britain have fallen by over two thirds during the last two decades –– a sign that the medium is losing its mass appeal. It is absolutely crucial that the left takes these facts into account if our message is going to be able to reach all parts of society.

In addition to the reduction in demand, there is an apparent accessibility issue. Far too frequently, left-wing newspapers have only been available at street stalls and protests. On demonstrations, it is now a sad sight to see numerous leftist groups standing around trying to present their writings as the ‘new revolutionary alternative’ while seemingly hundreds of other alternatives stand next to them. Such publications are more likely to be read by the left’s ardent ‘train-spotters’ than by the average ‘apolitical’ individual walking down the street. Even the act of the street sale has become something that is radically out of touch with most people today. Those selling papers on street corners and at protests should genuinely ask themselves what makes them different from religious preachers who attempt to convey the word of the God instead of the word of Marx? To the average person walking down the street this has depressingly become almost indistinguishable.

This is not to imply that print media is no longer relevant. Journals and magazines, on the other hand, have a lot more time and effort put into them and do not necessarily have the same restrictions of relevancy as newspapers do. Emerging in the journals and magazines market is a new type of political publication which offers insight but type of print media. Publications such as the Jacobian and the Tribune while not always being ideologically sound certainly offer something different in the way of having aesthetically well designed publications with generally speaking well informed analysis that seeks to expose or bring light to new issues and ideas. Regardless, many workers are unable to commit to subscribing to such publications, especially when information can be obtained for free online!

If the left values what it has to say and sees its message as a revolutionary one that could bring liberation to the toiling and oppressed masses then why is it seeking to charge a fee for this information?

The other emerging medium in the war of ideas is social media and the use of memes particularly on websites such as twitter and facebook. Ideas and arguments that can be condensed into humorous images with a visual aide and attract tens of thousands of engagements and interactions. This is obviously totally free to produce and generally speaking takes a lot less time to create than other mediums.

If our ideas are going to have any chance of agitating the public, we need to accept the fact that the newspaper as a medium is becoming obsolete. As heartbreaking as it is to consider, the newspaper medium is likely to die within the next 5 to 10 years.

It is critical for the left to identify where people get the majority of their information from. Social media has expanded in popularity over the last decade, and as a result, there is a greater need to consume news in real- time. The internet has opened up a universe of information dissemination possibilities, and rather than viewing it as a setback, the left should embrace its advantages.

As a result, whether it’s the traditional article or emerging forms like infographics and reels, we need to use proven successful formats for sharing information. Having a sophisticated social media presence and publishing content online attracts and attracts a considerably larger audience than newspapers do while also being far more cost effective in these financially difficult times. It is not surprising that nine out of ten younger individuals aged 16-24 (89%) prefer to read the news online rather than in person.

The truth is that this way of thinking about newspapers is probably not appealing to most on the left, which is understandable given that the newspaper has been at the vanguard of socialist organising in Britain for as long as anybody can remember. However, if the left is to progress, it must abandon its reliance on this increasingly archaic medium.

Ben Ughetti, is a member of the YCL’s South Yorkshire Branch

Source: Challenge Magazine