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24 December 2016

Merry Christmas from the New Statesman

See you on the other side of the turkey marathon. 

By Helen Lewis

Like the Queen’s Speech, my “we’re shutting up shop” message has become a Christmas tradition, and it has the added advantage of allowing me to reflect on the previous year in our journalism.

As I’m writing this, the analytics tell me that a piece published only two days ago is making a serious bid to be our most-read of the year – Amelia Tait on the Reddit community who are fans of a film that doesn’t exist. It went viral on Twitter (who knew that could happen any more?) immediately after publication, and has now picked up steam across other social networks. It will be vying for the top spot with Laurie Penny’s barnstorming post-Brexit polemic “I want my country back“. Our top ten also includes Kate Mossman’s interview with Bon Jovi, and John Gray’s essay, The Closing of the Liberal Mind

Like most British journalists, our year has a fairly clear break in the middle: pre- and post-Brexit. That story has dominated the latter half of the year, and prompted our special “New Times” issue, where some of the most interesting thinkers on the left wondered how to respond to the shift in the political debate. We’ve now collected all the essays, plus our special series of podcasts, into a new vertical on the site. We’ll be returning to the rubric throughout the next year.

We’ve also had some staffing changes: Stephen Bush is now a special correspondent, allowing him to write across a greater range of subjects. (Also, have I mentioned that he has a morning email?) Julia Rampen is now our Staggers editor; Serena Kutchinsky joined in September as digital editor and will be helping lead our expansion in the new year; and this year we hosted Hasan Chowdhury and Anjuli Shere as Wellcome Scholars. Anjuli will be joining us for a further three weeks in the spring, writing on science and technology, in a placement generously supported by the Wellcome Trust. So far, the New Statesman has given placements to seven talented black and minority ethnic journalists with the support of the Wellcome Trust. The longer placements also received the support of Creative Access (which unfortunately has just lost its government funding). 

Looking under the hood, one of my favourite yearly highlights is discovering what browsers are out there that I’ve never heard of before. Shout-out to the 3,000 people using SeaMonkey, the 571 people browsing the New Statesman on their PlayStation 3 (let’s be honest, this must be one person visiting the site 571 times), and whoever’s browser is called “BaconReader”. Sadly, Mr/Ms MicroHard ScapeGoat Explorigator did not return this year. Possibly a big Trump fan. 

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The march of mobile continues. Smartphone browsing accounted for just 17 per cent of our traffic in 2012, rising to 38 per cent last year. Across 2016, the figure is 45 per cent (plus another 11.5 per cent on tablet). It’s an interesting shift for any of us who work in web journalism to remember that the version of the site we see every day – while editing on desktop – is one encountered by an increasingly small proportion of our users. (Perhaps we’ll make the web team edit using smartphones next year.)

As is traditional, I will say again that growing web traffic hasn’t meant falling print sales: news-stand sales and subscriptions are up (aided by readers’ desire to make sense of Brexit and Trump). When looking at cover sales, it’s clear there there is growing interest in Russia, Syria and Europe – and next year, I’d expect even more hunger for international news, given the elections in Holland, France and Germany. Domestic politics, by contrast, has felt a little less compelling, except for the by-election upset in Richmond Park. Brexit means Brexit, but no one seems to know what that means yet. Meanwhile we’ve heard relatively little from the government on other bread-and-butter subjects such as schools (apart from the kite-flying over grammars); housing and welfare. Prisons, which I wrote about in the autumn, seem likely to force themselves back on to the political agenda.  

We remain committed to publishing ambitious pieces of reporting, including Martin Fletcher’s piece from Zimbabwe on the last days of Robert Mugabe (in the Christmas print issue, online in the coming days) and Sophie McBain’s feature following a refugee family from sub-Saharan Africa to Hull, which won an Amnesty award. All our longform journalism is collected in the dedicated Longreads tab. Grab some Quality Street and dive in. 

We are also powering on with our podcasts: Stephen and I host the main New Statesman podcast, and there is also Anna Leszkiewicz and Caroline Crampton’s pop-culture digest SRSLY, and Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland’s city-themed discussion, Skylines. One of my great regrets of the year is telling Jonn I was too busy to meet his podcast guest, without knowing it was one of Suede. Sob. 

Our listeners seem to like hearing us bang on in person as well as through headphones, and so Stephen and I did a live show in September, and hope to take the New Statesman podcast ON TOUR around Britain next year. Caroline and Anna hosted a Gilmore Girls quiz which sold out instantly, and in the New Year they are also hosting a Harry Potter quiz. I asked Anna to give me a sample question at the Christmas lunch and I swear it was harder than some A-levels. (*awaits high-five from Michael Gove*)

If there’s anything missing from our coverage, or you’d like to suggest great new writers, get in touch with either myself or Serena on Twitter (@helenlewis, @SKutchinsky) or via email or snail mail. 

I leave you with a tip. Don’t search “Obama Christmas” on Getty unless you want to feel pre-emptively sad about next Christmas. There’s no way Donald Trump is going to throw some shapes alongside Santa. Happy Christmas. . .