Why is Andrew Neil so keen to bash the New Statesman?

Spectator chairman uses his "impartial" BBC platform to denigrate a commercial rival.

During an interview with Harriet Harman on today's edition of BBC2's Daily Politics, presenter Andrew Neil took a snide swipe at the New Statesman, asking the Labour deputy leader: "What’s the logic of saying that the online site of the New Statesman should come within this regulation, a site which has no great influence in Westminster, but that Guido Fawkes, probably the most influential site in Westminster, should not?" Is this the same Mr Neil who last year expressed a wish to buy the New Statesman, only to be rebuffed?

But then Neil is hardly a disinterested party. He is currently chairman (formerly chief executive) of Press Holdings, the company that owns the Spectator magazine, so perhaps it's not surprising that his usually forensic mind let him down on this occasion. Based on the most recently published figures, the Spectator website, which includes Guido Fawkes blogger Harry Cole as a contributing editor, attracted just 380,000 users a month in 2011. By comparison, between 1 and 7 December - a single week - the NS site had 229,472 unique browsers and 594,710 page views, and between 1 and 30 November received over a million uniques - twice the traffic recorded by the Spectator. 

If Neil wants to use his BBC platform to disparage the New Statesman website, he should at least declare his interest in doing so. We'll be keeping an eye on you, Andrew! 

BBC presenter and chairman of Spectator owner Press Holdings Andrew Neil.
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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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