Start-up in focus: The Canary

By Paul Marsden

The polarisation of the electorate is increasingly becoming de rigueur in 2016. Demonstrating this, one of Britain’s fastest growing start-up news websites launched just over a year ago, as Jeremy Corbyn was beginning his surprise stint as Leader of the Opposition.

A wave of support for Corbynism had catapulted the longstanding MP from the backbenches into the spotlight of the mainstream media, where political commentators were particularly critical of Corbyn’s policies, associates and style.

But the most successful part of Corbyn has been his ability to fire up a significant section of the Labour base, who are sick of austerity and heavily critical of the Conservative government. It is unlikely to be enough to make him Prime Minister, but it has completely changed the face of the Labour party.

The Canary, which is based in Bristol, was launched just in time to provide news coverage targeted at this section of society, energised by Corbyn’s win. The progress the site has made in a year is staggering – in July as Corbyn was fighting for re-election as Labour leader following Britain’s vote to leave the EU, The Canary attracted a whopping 6.6m visits a month. All this for a site that had launched on a budget of less than £1,000.

How did they do it?

The rapid growth in the size of The Canary’s audience is undeniably down to social media.

Two-thirds (66%) of the site’s readers in this period came to their stories via social media, compared to less than a quarter (24%) who arrived directly. This means more than four million people clicked on Canary links on social media this July.

Despite Twitter having a lot of young and left-leaning users, Facebook is responsible for the vast majority of this traffic – accounting for nearly nine in ten social media referrals.

The Canary demonstrates how utilising social media effectively can help start-ups grow rapidly.

The business model – Income

The Canary survives as a result of onsite advertising and financial support from readers. The amount of money the site can make from advertising is obviously tied to the success of its stories in attracting.

In terms of donations, the site suggests several levels of financial support to readers, ranging from the cost of a sandwich (£3.75) a month to the cost of an eight cigarette a day smoking habit a month (£102.20). This makes the sums relatable to audiences.

This donation approach, which is also being utilised by The Guardian, appears to be The Canary’s route to sustainability. The site aims to personally involve its readers in its fight to ‘free the media’.

Outgoings

A laudable aim of The Canary is to share half of the money it makes with its writers.

The remaining 50% is split between the site’s leadership team, its section writers and 20% is plowed back into the company for marketing and further developments.

Contributors are offered an eight week trial with online training – in The Canary’s digital newsroom – to get their articles up to speed for the site.

As Editor-in-Chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza told journalism.co.uk: “Writers give up the certainty of payment, so if their article is doing nothing, they earn nothing. But if they are willing to take the risk, the rewards mean they are being paid in line with the profit they generate for the business.”

Criticism

Although The Canary has been undeniably successful as a start-up, it has been regularly attacked for the tone of some of its more extreme coverage. Buzzfeed detailed some of these issues in a long-read on its site.

Unsurprisingly it also has critics in the mainstream media it regularly attacks.

Main Image: Dick Daniels/Wikipedia

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One thought on “Start-up in focus: The Canary

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