After five years, nearly 1,500 articles and more than a million visitors, New Left Project has ceased publishing. We’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the site, behind the scenes and above and below the line.
We started NLP in 2010 to provide an independent space for radical commentary and analysis, and to offer a home for longer content which could tackle issues rigorously and in depth, whilst remaining accessible, engaging and relevant. We hope that over the last five years we have made a small contribution to political thought and strategy, and served as a useful resource for the Left.
In this short closing piece, we offer some parting reflections on our experiences running the site, what worked and what didn’t, in the hope that this may prove useful to others.
It proved surprisingly easy five years ago to set up New Left Project and build our audience and reputation. One of our biggest worries – whether we’d be able to commission a regular flow of high quality material without any money to pay contributors – proved unfounded. We were pleased to discover that there are significant numbers of people out there willing to give up their time, and subject themselves to a sometimes demanding editorial process, in order to share their ideas.
But whilst establishing NLP went fairly smoothly, and our readership increased fairly steadily, building on these initial successes proved more of a challenge. This was primarily a result of our operating model.
NLP was run by a small collective of editors, all of whom worked on a voluntary basis in their spare time. The collective structure was, on the whole, satisfying and effective. Whilst we occasionally attempted to move towards more formal ways of working, our ad hoc approach proved to be permanent, perhaps because it was well suited to the practicalities of running a relatively small site. Naturally there were occasional disagreements amongst the collective, but these were usually resolved through open discussion, and we never felt a need for a more hierarchical structure.
If working as a loose, dispersed and changeable editorial collective proved effective, the complete lack of financial resources was more problematic. It meant that reconciling editorial duties with other commitments – paid work, political activities, leisure time, friends and family – was a consistent problem. The upshot was that while we were for a long time able to sustain a regular flow of content, and for a time to expand our readership, broadening our base beyond its core constituency and developing the site in new directions proved very difficult. We had many ideas to these ends, for instance, hosting more live events and producing audio-visual content. But we didn’t have the time to implement them.
In the initial stages of a project like NLP, enthusiasm more than compensates for such pressures. But sustaining this enthusiasm requires that participants are able to pursue creative ideas for improving and developing the project in novel ways. If, for lack of time and energy, they are unable to do so, enthusiasm wanes and the whole project begins to stagnate.
Another notable consequence of the voluntary model for NLP has been our dependence upon academic labour. Since we could not pay for articles, we were always reliant for content on scholars who, whilst certainly under time pressures, could afford to write for us for free. One of the most valuable services NLP performed, we think, was to encourage and enable academics who had done politically useful research to communicate their findings in an accessible way to the broader public. But this dependence on academics for content meant that our contributor base, and the type of content we published, were much narrower than we would have liked. Politically engaged scholars have a significant role to play in radical movements. But a site which aims to be a home for the Left, as we did, must include broader voices and be capable of reaching out beyond the sort of audience to which this sort of material naturally appeals.
A related problem was that we were rarely able to commission original reporting, and when offering something other than academic research tended to publish commentary and analysis pitched in opposition to the ‘mainstream’. This is a broader problem in alternative media and publishing and reflects the imbalance of resources between the Left and the forces it opposes. It is one reason why we find ourselves perpetually on the back foot. If we are to take the initiative, and we surely must, we will need to move beyond critique and reactive politics, and to find ways to communicate and produce knowledge for and with each other.
We believe that websites like New Left Project have an important role to play in building and sustaining effective and popular movements in opposition to war, racism, sexism and corporate power, and eventually, we hope, in developing a robust and more humane alternative. There are many factors which work in favour of such initiatives. The technology now available has made publishing, promotion and collaboration cheap and efficient; with no resources, we have been able to commission and publish serious, original analysis of vitally important political issues over the past half-decade. Our overriding conclusion, however, is this: sustainable alternative media takes time and costs money. If we want a more diverse media landscape – and at this point few things are needed more – we had better start figuring out how to fund it.