The crisis of consolidation and collapse of Canada’s mainstream print and broadcast media, and the federal government’s attempt to save corporate media in Bill C-18: An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada which only exacerbates the crisis, is a serious threat to intelligent and informed public debate, and ultimately to democracy itself. Local news and investigative journalism have been particularly heavily impacted, giving way to misinformation and distrust. This dire situation will only worsen as tech giants, owning the infrastructure behind the means of information production, unplug news sites while corporate media giants fight to devour market share. Independent news and working-class points-of-view are pushed far off the margins of an increasingly privatized public sphere.
However, as journalist and writer Dennis Gruending notes, there is a lot of journalism available on the internet that is often made accessible, though readers should be prepared to pay to preserve public space. Despite the gloomy outlook for the future of journalism, it is still quite possible to access news and opinion independent of social media platforms who aggregate content, instead of produce original content and analysis. Like the old days, we should consider going straight to the source. Taking a leaf from Dennis, here are some of the publications I browse and find to be particularly useful to inform critical progressive left analysis.
The resources for reporting daily developments in current affairs are immense, with wire services such as the Canadian Press still owned by corporate entities. Despite their corporate backing, the current affairs that are presented (and those that are missed and ignored) still warrant critical analysis and understanding. I subscribe to The Globe and Mail (expensive but indispensable) and, reluctantly, to my local daily, the Ottawa Citizen—a pathetic and sadly depleted shell of a newspaper that has deteriorated under Postmedia ownership. I also get daily news bulletins, for a very modest subscription fee, from the Toronto Star.
The CBC as Canada’s public broadcaster is a vital resource in the various media formats it maintains, but is becoming increasingly under-resourced and anxious to preserve a false sense of “balance” in their reporting as a result. Still, our public broadcaster is still essential for news and information needed to strengthen democracy, which is no doubt why Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre twists himself in knots to promise defunding the CBC.
Outside of Canada, I find The Guardian, based in the United Kingdom, to be the best source of international news and commentary that can help to inform a global progressive perspective. They have resisted putting up a paywall for their online news content but do depend on donations to stay afloat. I also use UK’s BBC World News for online info on global affairs and the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s DW News who maintain an English language web service covering European and international news. While these perspectives and analysis may be informed by interests of the liberal order, and lack critical voices of the Global South, they are still no doubt useful for generating a critical leftist world view on current affairs.
My one-time tutor at the London School of Economics, Marxist scholar Ralph Miliband, once told me that socialists should carefully read The Economist since it was like listening in to the bourgeoisie talking to itself. I still subscribe, though it remains squarely on the neoliberal end of the ideological spectrum and is annoyingly self-confident.
Economic and business commentary in The Financial Times based in London is another excellent resource for criticizing capitalism, but subscriptions remain very expensive.
The New Statesman from the UK is a centre-left publication which I think is well worth subscribing to understanding the mainstream British Labour Party perspective. They put out an excellent weekly newsletter I subscribe to which provides useful links to other critical publications.
Several mainstream magazines can sometimes include social democratic political commentary, including The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books and The Atlantic (all requiring a subscription).
En lieu of social media platforms, many online publications I read send out regular e-mails to subscribers with links to news and new content. Even publications that ask for paid subscriptions often provide some free content. While many of these publications are not backed by corporate interests, small but regular donations to independent publishers can make a difference in keeping critical journalism alive.
In Canada, there are a wealth of online publications that I subscribe to and are well worth the following include Rabble, Winnipeg-based Canadian Dimension (a historic print publication), The Tyee (for its British Columbia and environmental focus), the National Observer (for its great environmental journalism), Inroads (a long-time provider of Canadian commentary on current affairs), Regina-based Briarpatch (in addition to its continued print magazine publication) and The Maple.
PressProgress, the news division of the Broadbent Institute, and The Breach focus on critical coverage of the right-wing, often breaking news stories that corporate mainstream media misses. The Canadian version of The Conversation is a project to share the ideas and work of academics on current issues from a wide variety of views–many coming from a progressive perspective.
In the United States, Jacobin is a democratic socialist print magazine that also maintains a very lively web site with frequent new content. The magazine’s writing staff includes Broadbent Institute alumnus Luke Savage who can bring an outsider Canadian angle to American affairs. The same is true of the more social democratic The American Prospect which is the main voice for the left-wing of the U.S. Democratic Party. The venerable voice of the American left, Dissent magazine, is available in print and online. The U.K. Labour Party left is still reflected in Tribune magazine available quarterly in print and online.
I suggest reading Social Europe for European commentary from a social democratic perspective, as well as the English version of the German journal International Politics and Society (Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft) supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung—a German political foundation associated with, but independent from, the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives publish a regular print and online magazine, The Monitor, and blogs on matters of political economy in Behind the Numbers. These publications are indispensable for analysis of economic and social trends and policies from a progressive point of view. The U.S. Economic Policy Institute should be looked at for progressive American analysis of domestic and international political economy.
To round out the online publications that I follow that inform my own critical analysis, I regularly read blogs and newsletters from progressive economists such as Adam Tooze (whose Chartbook newsletter I subscribe to), Branko Milanovic, Robert Reich, Joseph Stiglitz, James Galbraith, and Brad DeLong. In addition to their writings in major print journals, and online publications such as Project Syndicate, they deliver regular insight through e-mail newsletters and Substack posts that remain accessible to a wide audience.
Reading on the Left and the Right
For socialist analysis and serious commentary, I subscribe to the annual Socialist Register journal, the bi-monthly journal New Left Review. For “lighter” fare, I look to the New Left Review’s Sidecar blog, the historic socialist magazine the Monthly Review (requiring a paid subscription) and the Socialist Project’s The Bullet.
For intelligent Canadian conservative commentary that I need to understand, I look to new outlets The Line and The Hub which conveniently collect these voices for critical analysis.
Perspectives: A Canadian Journal of Political Economy and Social Democracy
This scan of the publications I read regularly to inform my own progressive left analysis brings me to the newest addition to the list: Perspectives. This journal for political economy and strategy is an exciting new initiative by the Broadbent Institute to carve out a Canadian space for theory and ideas, alongside policy analysis, public debate, activism, and social movements, informed by Canada’s democratic socialist tradition and history. Amid the growing consolidation of corporate media and the precarious state of independent media, I see Perspectives as a new force in Canadian discourse, backed by the strength and policy expertise of the Broadbent Institute. I encourage Perspectives’ new readership to use this publication’s progressive viewpoints to help inform and equip the movements and activists pushing for changes in public policy with ideas and analysis to win a better world that is just and equitable.
There is a lot out there. Happy reading.