Print media in 2017

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jondwhite's picture
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Feb 16 2017 11:49
Print media in 2017

Is print media in 2017 dead? I sometimes wonder why there isn't a definitive anarchist journal in print. With Jacobin garnering positive attention, is there scope for a Jacobin style anarchist publication? Are anarchist pamphlets in print what they used to be? Are socialist printed material what it used to be? Is it worth launching print ventures in radical publications these days? I think so.

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Feb 16 2017 14:24

Print media everywhere is dying, which is a real shame as I can't bear reading long articles on a screen, let alone a full magazine. In terms of quality magazines (and yes, I realise quality is a relative term) the AF still regularly produces Organise magazine.

As for definitive, if you mean by this a broad sweep, big tent anarchism, with every rag, tag and bobtail element included, then thankfully we don't have this.

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Feb 16 2017 14:57

There's scope, but no support base. Freedom and Black Flag both died not because there was no interest in reading journals (it's still possible to sell quality magazines with unique content and a good front page will always shift copies at a Bookfair), but because no bugger wanted to go to the effort of selling or promoting them. It's more a symptom of the anarchist movement being at a low ebb than anything else imo.

As a personal example I could put out 1,500 copies of a new Freedom magazine in a week or so for free distro if I thought anyone would actually hand it out, with a fair number of reasonable quality articles, but on the evidence of the last few years people say "I wish there was a magazine" and then magically disappear when any actual work is asked of them to make it happen. And that's not particular to Freedom.

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Feb 16 2017 16:49

London AF is on issue #5 of Rebel City, which is a freesheet. IIRC, they get about 1,000 done and shift them all, producing one about every three months. It's short news items and commentary rather than analysis, seems to go well on demos, and also the odd distro at tube stations (the pitch being "Fancy a change from the Metro?"). Don't want to steal battlescarred's thunder, but it's fair to say at this stage that it's open to contributions from other groups & individuals, and won't be a London AF publication forever.

I see a role for print media (partly no doubt out of nostalgia, having been exposed to anarchism by Black Flag, back when it was a newspaper rather than a magazine). Rebel City has kind of the same remit as the old monthly editions of Resistance, which was all about stories about, er, resistance -- so the most recent issue has stuff in there about shady goings on at Millwall FC, the Schools Against Borders for Children campaign, antifascism, other things I can't remember. I suppose if you can tell a few hundred people every now and then (who won't necessarily be anarchists or even particularly "radical") that bad shit is happening and -- more importantly -- people are organising themselves to fight back, that's worth something. And putting a physical publication in someone's hand is one way of doing it.

The first three issues are here on LibCom:

https://libcom.org/library/rebel-city

..... as you'll see lessons have been learned about font size since the first one grin

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Feb 16 2017 18:09

That's another frustration for broad-base publication. Individual groups will sometimes put out good stuff (Occupied Times for example) and put a huge amount of effort into reinventing the wheel, often at significant cost, mostly because they like to fully control their own output, which generally lasts until the core group runs out of steam/cash (or there's a split, or both).

Edit: Sorry if this sounds downbeat, I've just seen an awful lot of print projects start out enthusiastic, totter along for a few years and then vanish without trace when the designer sods off or the person who goes to all the demos moves on, which bolloxes continuity and is frankly a massive waste.

Organise and Resistance speak strongly to the importance of having a specific organisation underwriting a publication if it's to be distributed (this is also the sole reason for the Morning Star's continued existence, I suspect the Socialist Worker too), but without that focusing effect, you're left with the above.

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Feb 16 2017 22:14

Do any of these orgs have money to pay people to hand em out? Could be a good way to do it.

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Feb 16 2017 22:24

Sorry yes, I wasn't trying to say there isn't a definitive anarchist journal in print, only that I want to hear more of / from it. Organise and Resistance I ought to look into.

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Feb 17 2017 15:57
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Do any of these orgs have money to pay people to hand em out?

Short answer no. Long answer, some could afford to do it a bit, but always have more pressing things to spend money on and ideologically there's a strong sense that political orgs should be able to distro their own stuff.

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Feb 17 2017 18:26

The advantage of print media is that you can reach people who would never stumble across whatever it is normally. Same for posters, flyers etc. It's also nice to have something concrete if you have a stall or a physical presence somewhere.

A leaflet distro is pretty easy, I've done it a lot of times, any group that can get a leaflet printed should be able to hand it out.

Magazines are a bit different, freesheets too depending on the size. Due to the amount of work put in you don't want the same level of wastage as you live with with a leaflet. Again you can always distribute them door to door, I helped a few times with HSG because we had a new issue coming out and here were a lot left. I think HSG used to put out 4 issues or so a year of Totally Indypendent and I think there were usually about 1500 copies.

I think what Rob says stands up pretty well though, when you have an organisation then the print media is a secondary thing so people will be asked to do stuff if needed. If the organisation is the media then you have less slack of that kind and as he said you're vulnerable if a key person gives up. Also the goal of a magazine that is stand-alone is a little more abstract and I think it motivates people less. I never actually learnt to use the software but training was put on a couple of times to avoid relying on the two people (at first) who could use the software.

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Feb 18 2017 19:30

Honestly AK Press should just have a magazine. They are in the publishing industry after all and have experience making this work. Anarchist organizations should probably put their efforts behind convincing them to do that. I think it's mostly about making sure there is a well oiled machine of an organization behind it, with people experienced in print media, though having specific or union organizations could help.

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Feb 18 2017 21:27

AK having a magazine sounds like a good plan since it could basically be extracts and reviews of their own publications. Heh.

On reflection, there's actually quite a lot of anarchist print media at the moment (Strike!, Occupied Times, Resistance, Organise, Rebel City, stuff I don't know about, etc). None of it positions itself as being the publication of the anarchist movement, but that's probably good because a) there is no anarchist movement in the UK, let's not pretend otherwise and b) if they did try and be the publications of a nonexistent movement, all that would happen is a load of meetings about getting a magazine together and fuck all would happen.

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Feb 19 2017 04:07

Print media has been dead for years. At least in the ways it was once recognizable.

I really see only two different models for leftist publications. You either are willing to operate at a large loss, and are subsidized by participants with money (Crimethinc) or an organization that eats the loss (Industrial Worker newspaper, now magazine).

Or you focus the bulk of the work on online content that is regular, continuous and relevant on a website that is user friendly. You save the printed media for the core of your audience mostly through subscriptions, and give them content that is not all online (Like Jacobin, virtually all mainstream newspapers and magazines). The printed media is not going to be cheap for the consumer, but you might not operate at a loss/as much of a loss.

Seems one of the problems of leftist publications is that they do not acknowledge this choice.

Also, many leftist publications seem to lack a clear editorial purpose. Or even know who their audience is or who it should be.

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Feb 19 2017 10:05
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On reflection, there's actually quite a lot of anarchist print media at the moment (Strike!, Occupied Times, Resistance, Organise, Rebel City, stuff I don't know about, etc).

Strike recently switched to quarterly (never a good sign) and Occupied Times became base publication, which has been struggling along with a tiny staff coming out irregularly, and all three of the other ones you mention are AF-backed. If all of them co-ordinated their releases it could just about add up to one monthly publication. Compared to when I came into the movement (and it was already in decline) when there was Mute (monthly), Freedom (fortnightly!), Schnews (monthly), Do or Die was only just closed, Peace News (monthly) was more active, Direct Action (quarterly), Organise (quarterly?), Resistance (monthly?), Catalyst, Class War magazine, Now or Never! plus a freesheet or two in most regions.

Unless people aren't bothering to stock in Freedom, there's not much that you don't know about out there, at least nationally. Local sheets I know of are Bristolian, Totally Indypendent and a couple of Hecklers, but otherwise it's pretty barren and they're largely the same folks who have been doing it for years.

PeterTCA
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Feb 24 2017 13:16

Bloody Hell!

We at "The Cunningham Amendment" must be doing something wrong.
Going for 43 years. Full colour. Profusely illustrated. Three times a year. Competitively priced.

But then we never complain about would-be contributors or unresponsive outlets or moan about finance.

We just get on with it.

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Feb 24 2017 14:31

Sorry forgot about you folks, I like your work a lot! But see "largely the same folks who have been doing it for years." If your core people who show up at the bookfair every year stopped, so would the show no?

This isn't about whinging (it's not like I don't put my money where my mouth is, I was the one who sorted out the bookfair issue of Freedom last year, which did shift all 1,500 copies in short order), it's about assessing what the movement is and isn't sustaining compared to even a few years ago, and what the prospects appear to be in terms of getting regular print publications out on a mass basis.

Jim
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Feb 24 2017 14:13

Print media isn't completely dead in a commercial sense but it's heading that way. Nearly all the major newspapers and magazines in the UK have seen circulations decline over the past 50+ years. There's a couple of notable exceptions (like Private Eye) but on the whole the trend we're seeing in society is people are reading less printed media and more online.

460xauto

The big political media success story of the past few years is probably Breitbart, the "mouthpiece for the alt-right" which is backed by deceased neoconservative billionaire Andrew Breitbart. It's come from pretty much nowhere to being the 29th most visited website in the USA according to the latest Alexa ratings (for comparison, this site is 29,035th).

If we're trying to build an anarchist media the most effective place to put resources is online.

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Feb 24 2017 14:35
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If we're trying to build an anarchist media the most effective place to put resources is online.

We've disagreed on that score for a good 15 years now wink. I still believe there's a place for printed material, because it has the potential to offer a very particular form of outreach online doesn't match (which is why direct mail is still a thing). I also think putting together the sort of paper that could make a serious impact (high-quality, attractive, regular, well-distributed, ideally free) requires a level of organisational sophistication, co-operation, planning, commitment and resources that the British anarchist movement simply doesn't have.

Jim
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Feb 24 2017 15:53
Rob Ray wrote:
We've disagreed on that score for a good 15 years now wink.

Yeah, although I think I'm a lot more pro-print than I was. I'd love to be working on a print publication again, I just don't have the time or the energy to do it on top of everything else and I really need to be putting more time and energy into upgrading this site at the moment.

I think one of the problems is the breakdown of political organisations and growth of the internet. When I first became an anarchist I had been on the fringes of some Tankie groups and then joined the AF. While I was in the AF I learnt how to lay things out in Adobe Pagemaker from working on Resistance and that was what gave me the confidence to work on Freedom. I basically got an education in print production from working on a political organisation's publication. A lot of people who're new to politics now just don't get that. I can think of comrades who've been around for a while but have never worked on a print publication. They'll have their own tumblr, blog, Instagram etc. and be happy writing but won't know much about how to produce a regular print publication.

Another issue is people not understanding the audiences they're writing for. Nearly everybody I can think of in groups I'm involved with who writes is a humanities student or graduate and the writing they produce can be really academic in style. People who're comfortable writing essays but can't write news articles for shit and aren't really interested in producing something which isn't advocating at length a political position they believe in. It does my head in that the anarchist movement seems to be able to produce essays en masse but has abandoned writing news.

One of the best ways of promoting anarchism is through news writing, reports on struggles and actions and reports on general political and economic life from an anarchist perspective. People largely aren't even attempting to do this. One day I'd love to get the news section on here to the standard it was during the anti-CPE struggle, but that's probably a while off.

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Feb 24 2017 16:08

Yep to all of that. Also the big one for me is the actual handing out of stuff. Simplest thing in the world, but getting people to actually do it is like pulling teeth. I dunno if people think their time is too important or what, but personally I'd take one person prepared to just regularly go to demos (or heaven forfend walk the street) handing papers out over a dozen writers poring over their latest grandiose analysis of the fetishisation of anger in male bonding rituals (or whatever). If I had a couple available at Freedom I actually would be putting out another issue right now.

Jim
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Feb 24 2017 16:15

Yeah, definitely. Distribution is a lot harder to get right than production. It's also another one of the reasons online is going to be a lot easier for us to start getting right than print sadly.

PeterTCA
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Feb 24 2017 17:41

I learned lots from Colin Ward's "Anarchy". Come rain or wind he single-handedly got issues out over 10 years.

He had a particular way in approaching and winning the confidence of contributors. Most Anarchists I come across are only too willing to express ideas and opinions. "A call for papers" only works with journals that have a sense of trustworthiness about them. And that can take years to establish.

I've always been wary of journals produced by collectives. Many break down over work schedules and ideology after three or four issues. The best come from oddball individuals who take on the responsibility to keep on producing. Take a look at "The Match!" which has been going since the mid-60's and has a few thousand loyal supporters.

I also believe there are hundreds out there (working away in different projects) who have never come across the mainstream movement.but, nonetheless, are sympathetic towards Anarchism.

Sorry to preach. If you bought me a beer I'd go on for hours.

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Feb 24 2017 18:21

I know all about the rain or shine bit, I did Freedom for five years as a fortnightly, sometimes single-handedly wink. As I say I've never had a problem getting people to write, ime opinions are cheaper than water and usually more enthusiastically proffered (though Jim's right I think that there's a huge difference between getting opinionated people to be opinionated on paper and getting disciplined writing/skilled layout to order, that definitely does rely a lot on reputation and is possibly a declining skill base).

It's the boring bits of admin, distribution and marketing that's always been the let-down for me, and I think that's something which has gotten significantly worse since Ward's time. Freedom used to have a guaranteed network of shops to put its wares in, a selection of distros, people selling on the street (and to some extent, people buying). All that's mostly vanished now which doesn't hurt too much at smaller scales — we can sell out of new book titles on short runs without any trouble at all — but generally makes bigger scales problematic and complex to navigate.

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Feb 24 2017 18:31
Jim wrote:
Another issue is people not understanding the audiences they're writing for. Nearly everybody I can think of in groups I'm involved with who writes is a humanities student or graduate and the writing they produce can be really academic in style. People who're comfortable writing essays but can't write news articles for shit and aren't really interested in producing something which isn't advocating at length a political position they believe in. It does my head in that the anarchist movement seems to be able to produce essays en masse but has abandoned writing news.

One of the best ways of promoting anarchism is through news writing, reports on struggles and actions and reports on general political and economic life from an anarchist perspective. People largely aren't even attempting to do this. One day I'd love to get the news section on here to the standard it was during the anti-CPE struggle, but that's probably a while off.

Personally, as a degree holding writer who publishes here, I try. For me, it's just hard to have an idea that you want to express about current events and then put it on the page, finding the time to do it all.

For me I just try to contribute in a very small way to publishing information that otherwise would probably not be widely disseminated. I'm guessing others would feel similarly.

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Feb 24 2017 18:47
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Nearly everybody I can think of in groups I'm involved with who writes is a humanities student or graduate and the writing they produce can be really academic in style. People who're comfortable writing essays but can't write news articles for shit and aren't really interested in producing something which isn't advocating at length a political position they believe in. It does my head in that the anarchist movement seems to be able to produce essays en masse but has abandoned writing news.

This is a great point, but I think it cuts both ways. I think a lot of anarchist writing just isn't very good: it's too wordy, it's rambling, it's jargony, it doesn't know its audience. Not to criticise the hard work that goes into gathering articles, doing layout, and meeting deadlines (I've been there), but I feel like a lot of anarchist publications need an editor who edits.

FWIW, I think all anarchist publications (and especially those aimed outside the movement) should have a 500 word limit per article, with the exception of a 1500 word feature. And then, editors that help people to make their writing concise and coherent.

Two other quick points:

1) I just want to say, again, how awesome this shit is. For me, this is the model: http://www.weareplanc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/bulletin-4-front-ba...

2) Whatever happened to that SolFed online writing course? Maybe we should publish it on libcom instead?

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Feb 24 2017 19:10

Wow! quite a nice little bulletin there Chili.

Maybe Libcom could have a way for groups to contact the admins to request coverage for their campaigns.

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Feb 24 2017 19:25
Jim wrote:
I think one of the problems is the breakdown of political organisations and growth of the internet. When I first became an anarchist I had been on the fringes of some Tankie groups and then joined the AF. While I was in the AF I learnt how to lay things out in Adobe Pagemaker from working on Resistance and that was what gave me the confidence to work on Freedom. I basically got an education in print production from working on a political organisation's publication. A lot of people who're new to politics now just don't get that. I can think of comrades who've been around for a while but have never worked on a print publication. They'll have their own tumblr, blog, Instagram etc. and be happy writing but won't know much about how to produce a regular print publication.

the button wrote about this a few years back, saying that despite the problems the unions used to train people to write press releases, handle media etc. But the libcom writing guides and posters on here did a pretty good job at helping me and others with advice and proof-reading when we started out.

Quote:
Another issue is people not understanding the audiences they're writing for. Nearly everybody I can think of in groups I'm involved with who writes is a humanities student or graduate and the writing they produce can be really academic in style. People who're comfortable writing essays but can't write news articles for shit and aren't really interested in producing something which isn't advocating at length a political position they believe in. It does my head in that the anarchist movement seems to be able to produce essays en masse but has abandoned writing news.

I think essays are more self-congratulatory and you're more likely to get a response from someone for expressing an opinion that someone agrees with than writing a neutral news article.

Quote:
One of the best ways of promoting anarchism is through news writing, reports on struggles and actions and reports on general political and economic life from an anarchist perspective. People largely aren't even attempting to do this. One day I'd love to get the news section on here to the standard it was during the anti-CPE struggle, but that's probably a while off.

Althought most of that was done by two people it was very encouraging to have some many articles and links submitted by people involved in the struggle. I kept up the news for quite a while afterwards, but gave up because it took up a lot of time and I wasn't really sure there was an effect of that anyone was even reading. When you're distributing a paper at least you know it's being read.

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Feb 25 2017 14:38
jef costello wrote:
Althought most of that was done by two people it was very encouraging to have some many articles and links submitted by people involved in the struggle. I kept up the news for quite a while afterwards, but gave up because it took up a lot of time and I wasn't really sure there was an effect of that anyone was even reading. When you're distributing a paper at least you know it's being read.

On this, I think if you are distributing a paper which people pay for you know it is getting read, however free sheets mostly get thrown away. Whereas at least with online stuff you can see how many exact readers it had (I think that is a good thing about the Facebook Likes, so at least people can get some instant feedback on people who've enjoyed reading stuff people have written/posted).

I think print publication is really important, however from my personal involvement with it from Freedom, we just about managed to get the paper written and out every fortnight (not particularly to a high standard I might add), but the distribution and marketing just wasn't there, so we were constantly running and struggling just to stand still.

I think the only ways you're going to get something like this actually done properly is to have a sizeable organisation agreed to back it - like Industrial Worker in the US for example.

Also as JC points out a key factor is: what is your audience. Most anarchist publications just haven't really figured that out.

I think one publication worth mentioning is Aufheben. It's pretty small, only being once a year, however it is effective, and I think what works best about it is that it has a very clear purpose and audience.

I think it would be great to do a general anarchist/libcom "news" paper with a bit of comment and analysis aimed at a general audience focused on: those involved in social movements and single issue campaigns, like migrants' rights, environmentalism, anti-racism, and shopfloor militants in unions and non-unionised workplaces. However distribution would be incredibly difficult - and infrastructure to do it effectively doesn't exist. So this is where online stuff is much easier. But there still isn't a decent online anarchist news service yet, although we would really like libcom to be this eventually… And I don't think a decent news print publication is possible if you can't even get an online one properly yet

PeterTCA
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Feb 25 2017 15:30

We should forget mainstream distribution. Without strong financial backing it's a no-go.

Of course, there are a few regional Anarchist Book Fairs dotted about the country. They replaced the old alternative shops once found in every town. The Fairs are great markets. Tons of interested punters exchanging ideas and even buying things.

For me, the more Anarchist papers the better. But - and it's a big but - they must be characterised as something imaginative, full of surprise and inspiration. I quite agree with a 500 word limit. Too often articles, and format, are little different from drab Marxist drones.

On the scarcity of contributions I once put together a run of a TU paper in a hospital. Then, like now, staff were wary about putting their name in print. I went round with a tape recorder interviewing people. It worked. Quite incredible to find that the shop floor, and patients, had some acute observations.

A solid reliance on cyberspace is not good. Someday, someone will switch it off.

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Feb 25 2017 15:37
PeterTCA wrote:

A solid reliance on cyberspace is not good. Someday, someone will switch it off.

yeah no that's not going to happen. Of course in some parts of the world the Internet is heavily policed and repressed, like China. However even in places like that online publications in most cases are still the most efficient and effective, if done in a secure way. And even in a kind of dystopian police state scenario like the one you outline (not that that would actually happen, as huge chunks of big business and the state requires the internet to function on a daily basis), you'll still be safer running websites through VPNs rather than trying to dish out leaflets or papers in the street.

More long-term I hope as E readers get better, print will just largely be surpassed by online publication, and the two will effectively merge. This would be fantastic for us, as it would mean being able to "publish" effectively for free

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Feb 25 2017 16:06

So I agree about what's generally being said here about the need for a print publication but there not being the organisational infrastructure to maintain it. Definitely a huge shame imo. I also wanted to pick up on jef's comment:

jef costello wrote:
I kept up the news for quite a while afterwards, but gave up because it took up a lot of time and I wasn't really sure there was an effect of that anyone was even reading. When you're distributing a paper at least you know it's being read.

Yeah, at various points we've had one person who took on the role of basically keeping the site current (the Working Class Self-Organisation blog was another one) and when they stopped then current topics just tailed off, which was bad because they were probably our most popular articles.

I think in the past we definitely weren't as good at letting contributors know how widely read their content was (still not tbh, but a bit better) but, as Steven says, just looking at Facebook and Twitter gives you a decent idea. WCSO articles were getting dozens, sometimes close to 100 and occasionally even more. More recently, Jim showed me the stats on the Richard Spencer blog we put up and that got over 10,000 views in the first day!

So yeah, having current content is a real boost and has the potential to go beyond the usual crowd. Novara do really well with this, though obviously with a really pro-Labour bent, and I see people I know from outside politics sharing their stuff on Facebook as a result. I'd really like if we could do similar here. Given the numbers we get already, it could be a massive boost to the site and (by potentially reaching a wider audience and plugging news into all the other historical/theoretical stuff we've got) our politics more generally.

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Feb 25 2017 16:44
Steven wrote:
Whereas at least with online stuff you can see how many exact readers it had (I think that is a good thing about the Facebook Likes, so at least people can get some instant feedback on people who've enjoyed reading stuff people have written/posted).

Can you actually tell if the post has been actually read? A like may just mean that someone agreed with the headline and/or the first few sentences. Then again, I don't know the Facebook analytics stuff so I don't know if you can actually tell or not,