The Canary in the coalmine

The Canary describe themselves as delivering

campaigning journalism that informs and empowers people to change their world

And in terms of profile at least, they’ve been growing in strength since ther launch in 2015. According to editor in chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza the site was attracting 3.5 million unique users monthly back in 2016. (Free and Fearless, Hacked Off, 2016).

So while there’s much that can be said about them, their relative success can’t be denied.

But what are The Canary really about? Are they the progressive campaigning journalists they present themselves as. I examine some of the issues in this post.

As well as my own research, this post wouldn’t have been possible without research carried out by Richard Seymour (video follows) and posters on Urban75. Any mistakes and analysis are naturally my own.

Why focus on Kerry-Anne Mendoza

It’s a fair question; she is after all part of a wider team. The reason is simple. Not only is Mendoza the editor in chief, she’s also one of the founders (the story here is inconsistent as we are about to see) and the public face of The Canary. So it seems valid to take her as representative of the company as a whole.

The Business Model of The Canary


This is where things get interesting. The Canary is run as a limited company. According to their website,

Canary Media Limited is owned entirely by its leadership team, comprising of: 4 directors (Kerry-anne Mendoza – Editor-in-Chief, Drew Rose – Managing Director, Nancy Mendoza – Director of Comms and Membership, Bex Sumner – Standards Editor), 4 Editors (John Ranson, Emily Apple, Ed Sykes, Tracy Keeling) and Andrew Streets, our Head of Advertising.

The official line is that

Kerry-anne Mendoza, our Editor-in-Chief, teamed up with a group of extraordinary people to form The Canary in October 2015.

.
That isn’t, however, what was being claimed in 2016.

The Canary has been formed by Kerry-Anne Mendoza and Anthony ‘Roja’ Buck, both highly experienced in their fields.

(From “Writer (Science and Technology) Role Description”, The Canary, 2016)

So already we have a disconnect between what The Canary claim now and how they described themselves in the past. A minor point? Possibly. But it goes to demonstrate how much of the Canary’s public statements are about marketing and nothing else.

Anthony ‘Roja’ Buck is an interesting figure as well. His background seems to have been in business and technology (in particular Just Eat) and he resigned as Director on the 28th June 2016.


Tellingly, his existence seems to have been scrubbed from The Canary entirely. And vice versa; he doesn’t mention it on his Linkedin profile. Suspicion here is that having a tech entrepreneur involved in the founding of The Canary doesn’t fit the brand.

Journalism Model of the Canary

The Canary pay their writers on a per click basis, split 50/50 with the website.

This alone explains why The Canary is so inclined to clickbait headlines and lowest denominator articles. Unlike most media outlets which pay per article, it’s very model is based round journalists getting the highest possible audience for each article, regardless of quality. This is not a good way to do factual reporting (and also leads to half the articles on the website being just repurposed mainstream news stories with an editorial spin. I see no evidence of The Canary having done serious investigative journalism).

Rather than the daring progressive model they claim this is, it’s actually just a slightly better version of the issues you get with something like The Huffington Post. The Canary owners get to define what reasonable fees are when they take them from their writers. Any increase in advertising, affiliate links etc. are entirely at the discretion of the leadership team. Which goes some way to explaining why only five of the site’s writers earn enough to make a full time living. (Five of the Canary’s writers make enough money to work for the site full-time.). Considering that the leadership team also write for the site in many cases, I think we can hazard a guess which writers are putting food on the table.

Politics of the Canary

The Canary is sometimes seen (by its dimmer detractors as well as its supporters) as a “far left” site. There’s nothing socialist about The Canary. They never transcend a vague kind of left liberalism, with an analysis that could be found easily in the New Statesman or Guardian opinion sections. Don’t take my word for it, here’s Mendoza explaining The Canary’s political position:

We don’t have any affiliations with political parties, we don’t have any affiliations with political organisations, and we’re not actually ostensibly left-wing,” she added, calling the site’s editorial stance “a counterpoint to conservative media” and “broadly liberal”.

(From Buzzfeed)

While we can argue about what socialism would look like, I’m confident in saying that market driven liberalism isn’t it.

Mendoza’s Background

Previous to her founding of the Canary, Mendoza was a banker and management consultant earning over 100,000 a year. While some might consider mentioning this “class baiting”, I think it’s valid considering Mendoza’s posturing as anti establishment. It also means that the anti austerity stuff (genuine as far as it goes in my view; the issues with The Canary lie elsewhere) comes from a place of intellectual exercise, not personal experience.

She claims to have been radicalised by Occupy which is believable. (And explains a lot about The Canary. As anyone involved in that movement can tell you it had big issues with conspiracism).

The Canary and Conspiracism


The Canary has always had been more then willing to embrace conspiracy theories ranging from the Syrian Chemical Attack to claims Laura Kuenssberg was a speaker at the Conservative Party conference.


This isn’t surprising. While she may have tried to play it down since The Canary hit the mainstream Mendoza has always been a conspiracy theorist as her now deleted blog shows.

She has promoted the old far right favourite of a secret padeophile network and openly promoted the conspiracy film Zeitgeist.

So it’s not surprising that The Canary have had issues with antisemitism, whether promoting a play written by an antisemite or putting unabashed antisemites on their writing staff.

Mendoza and Icke

The antisemitism and conspiracism aren’t a shock, considering that Mendoza has links to notorious antisemite David Icke. (There’s not room to go into Icke in detail here, but you can find a summary here).

She seems to have had brief involvement in Icke’s “The People’s Voice” television channel, although she fell out with him. This seems to have been about money, not any of the many reasons anyone who isn’t a racist would fall out with David Icke.

This can’t have been an ideological dispute, considering that she was happy to appear on The Richie Allen show. Allen is an Icke protege who has also hosted neo nazis like Mark Collett, Alison Chabloz and David Duke.


It’s not a show any anti racist would even consider being on.

Conclusion

As I have demonstrated, The Canary is not a project that should be supported in any way. From its business model to its conspiracism it’s a barrier to meaningful left growth, not a path to it.

It should also be recognised that this isn’t the first time we’ve had this issue with alternative media. The previously useful resource Indymedia degenerated into racism and conspiracy theories, in large part due to Atzmon supporter and police informant Roy Bard/Freethepeeps. For any left media project larger than a few close comrades serious discussion on how to stop this happening needs to take place.

Unlike many more centrist critics of The Canary I’m of the view that the mainstream media has provided the climate for a site like The Canary to grow. There’s much to criticise from the left about Corbyn (I will be returning to this subject) but the media has decided to go with obvious conspiraloon stuff like the Czech Spy story and the hilariously stupidCorbyn was best friends with the explicitly anti Labour Red Action” stuff. Until that’s recognised as an issue sites like The Canary will always find fruitful ground.

So rather than going for the stance that we should just abandon left media altogether, I’d suggest a) consuming the best stuff on top of the more mainstream outlets and b) being more discerning with what you read, repeat and share on social media.

For an example of the right kind of left media I highly recommend looking at the work of Kate Belgrave, who lets benefit claimants tell their stories in their own words. That’s real left campaigning journalism. And that’s what we could have if we get rid of the opportunists and the cranks.  (Note: I don’t know Kate Belgrave and have never talked to her, so she neither endorses nor even knows about this post. So send threats to me instead, k).

 

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  1. Excellent reporting, research and analysis! Keep up the good work!

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