Jul 6, 2021 - Economy

Corporate media backlash fuels new upstarts

Illustration of a desktop microphone wrapped in newspaper clippings

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

New media personalities have gained enormous traction over the past year by catering to individuals who feel disillusioned by the mainstream press.

Why it matters: A convergence of trends over the past year has made it easier for writers to launch new entities that can rival mainstream outlets and it's given these creators the freedom to criticize big media institutions.

  • Trust in the mainstream media is at a record low, and the remote nature of the pandemic, sped up by digital innovation, is making it much easier for creators to self-publish and distribute their work online.
  • "People are hungry for information, just not the information that the corporate media is trained to give people," Saagar Enjeti, co-host of the new YouTube show "Breaking Points," tells Axios.

Driving the news: Enjeti and former MSNBC anchor and political candidate Krystal Ball recently left The Hill newspaper to start their own franchise on YouTube and via podcasts.

  • "Breaking Points" has gained nearly half a million subscribers in one month. It ranks in the top 10 news podcasts on Apple Podcasts in the U.S., ahead of popular shows like NPR News Now and Pod Save America.
  • It's the second-most popular podcast currently, behind Premiere Networks' Clay Travis and Buck Sexton, who replaced Rush Limbaugh earlier this year.

The duo routinely takes aim at the mainstream media, sometimes using terms similar to those popularized during the Trump era, like the "fake news New York Times."

  • "People weren't coming to it because it said 'The Hill' on the top," Enjeti recently noted, referring to their former show. "They were coming to it because they trusted us. And that is the thing — that's the keystone of the entire new media ecosystem."

State of play: Pundits that have recently launched their own media ventures are running a similar playbook, selling their digital platforms — mostly newsletters, podcasts and YouTube shows — as antidotes to the institutional media.

  • Glenn Greenwald, formerly of The Guardian and the co-founding editor of The Intercept, is a key example, as well as fellow Substack writers Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Vox Media, and Matt Taibbi.
  • Greenwald and popular podcaster Joe Rogan have been vocal supporters of Enjeti and Ball, boosting their audience with Twitter support and media appearances.

Support from the likes of Rogan can be a game changer for independent journalists. Rogan's wildly successful podcast can in part be attributed to his rebuke of the principles of mainstream journalism, including the "absence of curation, or any discernible editing," as the New York Times notes.

  • "Rogan is the father of the space," Enjeti says. "He created the environment in which we could thrive. I truly believe I wouldn't be here today without him."

Yes, but: Rogan, a comedian and UFC commentator, is the exception, not the rule. Many independent personalities that today criticize the mainstream press were able to build their new brands following lengthy careers in corporate media.

"There's an intimacy about so-called 'pushed content' — the newsletters and podcasts — that enhances trust in an era where trust is vanishing," says Steve Hayes, CEO and editor of The Dispatch, a center-right digital media company that launched on Substack in 2019.

  • The Dispatch has more than 150,000 subscribers, with nearly 30,000 paying for content.

By the numbers: Of the top 50 political podcasts on Apple podcasts today, about 60% come from personalities that don't work at mainstream news companies.

What to watch: Using new platforms to attack media companies may lead to continued polarization of audiences and the nation, Helen Lewis notes in the Atlantic.

  • Most troubling, the trend could also lead to an increase in the perception that misinformation runs rampant and that audiences shouldn’t trust anything they see in the news.

The bottom line: If necessity is the mother of invention, then corporate backlash is the mother of new media upstarts.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Glenn Greenwald was formerly with the Washington Post.

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