2021 could be the year that independent news really comes into its own. Partly this is down to much of the failures of the mainstream press. Over the last few years standards have dropped. The mainstream media seems unable or unwilling to hold those in power to account. Into the breach steps a rising band of independent news providers. These are unbiased and free to provide the hard-hitting news and investigations that has been so conspicuous by its absence.
These sites enter a difficult environment. Ranged against them are the considerable power of the corporate mainstream. Along with the usual suspects, 2021 will see the arrival of GB News and Rupert Murdoch’s News UK who aim to do to the UK what Fox did for the US.
Individually, independent news orgs are not much more than a small voice raging in the darkness, but the Bywire Network offers an exciting platform which brings them together into one deafening voice which is impossible to ignore. It creates a place where anyone can come to get transparent independent news, free from the filter of corporate interests or political agenda.
So, here’s a look at some of the best independent media sites to look out for in 2021.
Created by five founding members including editor in chief Kerry Anne Mendoza, this left-wing news site has become a bete noir of the British political establishment. Although it concentrates on UK politics it also produces excellent coverage of global affairs, the environment and sustainability. It also has an excellent satire section which is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from real life. Its aim was to diversify the news media scene and provide a counterbalance to the increasingly right wing slant of British media.
That it makes the right-wing media so angry suggests it has succeeded.
This not-for-profit UK company was created to shine light on British foreign policy. Created by a group of leading journalists including Victoria Brittain, editor Mark Curtis, and former South African politician Andrew Feinstein, it fulfils a role which the British media is largely ignoring: to inform the British people what is being done in their name.
Among their scoops has been the disclosure of a secretive British media unit working with the Saudi Arabian army while it is involved in a violent war in Yemen, and the UK intelligence agency’s attempts to neutralise the Guardian newspaper after the Snowden leaks.
Founded in 2010 this independent, not for profit organisation aims to hold power to account. Funded through philanthropy it pursues public interest investigations which have largely been ignored by the mainstream media. It was founded by author and former member of the Times Insight team, Elaine Potter, who wrote at the time that: “democracy itself is imperilled in the absence of honest information and a robust watchdog to hold government and the powerful to account.
Without that, we all become susceptible to the manipulation and deceptions orchestrated by governments, industry or even the media.” Since then, she says, things have got much worse. The organisation works to unearth those important investigations and collaborates with publishing partners to expand the impact of its reporting.
Founded by Tom Rogers and Jessica Miller, Evolve Politics is an independent, shared equity media outlet using investigative journalism to expose injustice. It is funded by small donations from readers and advertising on its site. However, it has a track record of putting the establishment to shame.
While the mainstream predicted disaster in 2017 its senior editor Matt Turner predicted a hung parliament. During the ensuing campaign it became one of the most widely read sites on the market with two million monthly views.
The sites unashamedly left-wing stance has attracted hostility from the media, but it continues to put it to shame covering those stories, the mainstream would rather sweep under the carpet.
From its London base, Middle East Eye has built up a reputation for providing fearless, independent news and fearless reporting that often contradicts the consensus opinion of the mainstream. Its team includes leading journalists such as Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail and Ian Cobain who was a senior investigative journalist at the Guardian until 2018. He forged a reputation as a fearless undercover reporter breaking stories about the BNP, the weapons industry and the government.
Now Then provides outstanding citizen journalism providing a magnificent independent magazine for Sheffield. Its mission is to provide an outlet for unheard or marginalised voices. They believe that the world needs real change to address it’s evils. As well as providing outstanding citizen journalism it has also made waves with its campaign for universal basic income. It successfully launched a petition for UBI which attracted more than a hundred thousand signatures and earned them a shout out in parliament.
The name says it all. In a world mired by disinformation Truth Defence seeks to stand up for honest, truthful journalism. It was founded by a collection of activists, journalists, lawyers, academics and journalists who are horrified at the way journalism is going in this country. Their recent report into misinformation in the 2019 election is a must read.
An international group of leading investigative journalists. This independent group of journalists based in Washington DC has been responsible for some of the best reporting of the last 30 years. The network works with more than 200 investigative journalists and 100 media organisations in 70 countries around the world.
Among its biggest investigations was their reporting into the international tobacco industry which revealed how tobacco giants such as Phillip Morris were working to grow their businesses around the world. They were also instrumental in the Panama papers which revealed the extraordinary lengths the 1% go to in order to avoid tax.
This is the place to go for those wanting an independent voice on Latin America. This region is often misunderstood and misrepresented in the UK media. Alborada sets out to provide progressive perspectives on the region which you will struggle to find in the mainstream. Its was founded and is edited by Pablo Navarrete, a British Chilean journalist and documentary film maker.
The strapline ‘what the papers don’t say’ says it all. Executive Editor and Founder Peter Jukes, along with editor Hardeep Matharu have developed one of the leading independent news sites on the market which has really come into its own during the pandemic. At a time when the mainstream media has repeatedly failed to hold the government to account, they sometimes seem like a lonely voice. Their investigation of the government’s ongoing procurement scandal has been outstanding.
For almost 20 years now Open Democracy has been challenging power and encouraging public debate. It was founded by writers and democracy campaigners Anthony Barnett, David Hayes, Susan Richards and Paul Hilder and really picked up momentum after the attacks on the World Trade Centre. With America baying for blood, they published an article by American journalist Todd Girlin which called for a ‘focused military response – a precise one not a revenge spasm… but an action which distinguishes killers from civilians.”
Pretty soon they received contributions from people who were disillusioned with the coverage of the war in their own country. Today it attracts millions of visitors each year and provides one of the best counterpoints to the mainstream around. Throughout their history, they have shone a light on issues the mainstream glosses over. This year they have been working overtime, covering events such as the farmers strike in India which struggle for airtime against the pandemic.
At a time when governments and the media are ignoring the climate crisis, publications such as the Ethical Consumer are indispensable. Founded in 1989 it has been published bimonthly from its offices in Manchester ever since. It has been a campaigning voice pushing businesses to be more environmentally responsible. It was involved in the setting up of the fair tax mark and the campaign against Amazon for its use of tax avoidance.
It has overseen pivotal decades in our history including the rise of sustainability and ethical consumerism. As we move into 2021, its work is even more important than ever. The climate emergency has gone critical and although the US has returned to the Paris Climate Accord major countries are lagging behind on their commitments. Their campaigning voice will be crucial for the environmental campaign to solidify the gains it has made.
“From the everyday to the earth shattering,” Manchester’s outstanding local news site, the Meteor, tells the stories that are neglected by the mainstream. It is one of 19 news organisations to win a grant from the Future News fund which was set up as a result of the Cainrcross Review which identified a democratic deficit due to the decline of independent news sites. They used those funds to build a democratic news cooperative in Manchester which challenges a national media scene which is dominated by corporate billionaires.
It, and others like it, represent a vibrant future of local journalism which cuts to the heart of the most important stories in their region.
This all-female team of academics, programmers and social workers discuss and review films and everything to do with the silver screen. They look at film from a social and political standpoint, especially those which champion underrepresented people and their views. They partner with a host of film festivals around the world and have an excellent podcast in which they discuss films in their cultural, racial and social contexts.
Satire in the UK has for a long term been a barren wasteland of comfortable panel shows. One of the few exceptions was The Revolution will be Televised in which Jolyon Rubenstein and Heydon Prowse gave the right and powerful the Sacha Baron Cohen treatment. Rubenstein is now back with his outstanding series Not the News. Taking a lead from Charlie Brooker and this simple format has him in his house commenting on the latest stories of the day. It’s rough and ready, but it’s the perfect satire show for the lockdown age. You can catch the latest episodes on YouTube.
Another local news site with a mission, the Bristol Cable is a community led media cooperative in Bristol. Founded in 2014 by a group of volunteers it is looking to redefine the meaning of local media. It is 100% owned by local people and provides high quality local journalism in print and online for free.
Although it has a local standpoint it tackles the big issues such as COVID 19, equality, and the campaign for decent pay for NHS staff.
(By Tom Cropper and Michael O'Sullivan)