Pro-Corbyn viral news websites have told BuzzFeed News they are applying to join the parliamentary press corps following their enormous growth in traffic during the general election.
Evolve Politics, which reached millions of readers during the election, has already submitted an application for a lobby pass to parliamentary authorities, while The Canary said it is considering following suit.
Many of the sites have made their name attacking existing political journalists as much as politicians, potentially setting up a clash with more established parliamentary reporters.
"It’s clear that while we are the new kids on the block, we are quickly usurping media outlets who have been in the lobby for years in terms of engaging people outside of the Westminster bubble – and getting them to share and debate our content," said Matt Turner, deputy editor of Evolve Politics, who submitted his application on Monday.
"We’re the vanguard of something new, and parliament should get ahead of the curve for once. They know about us, they know about the impact we’re having – so why not invite us in?"
The rise of the sites, most of which are open about their partisan agenda and view themselves as the left-wing counterparts to existing right-wing tabloids, has been extensively covered by BuzzFeed News before and after the election.
They blurred the line between reporting and left-wing activism, taking advantage of Facebook's algorithm and a gap in the market for pro-Jeremy Corbyn content to produce some of the most read articles of the election and push issues such as fox hunting and the ivory ban on to the agenda of online readers.
The world of lobby journalism, with dozens of journalists from rival publications based in neighbouring parliamentary offices and attending the same events, dates back to the 19th century. Correspondents, who have security clearance, are often given advance warning of government announcements for planning purposes, access to twice-daily briefings from the prime minister's spokesperson, and invitations to attend policy launches and speeches.
Journalists with full lobby passes also have the right to stand in the members' lobby of the House of Commons and talk to MPs, while being given the freedom to roam around parliament.
There are no clear rules on which outlets are granted passes, with access controlled by the historic office of the Serjeant at Arms, but sites are expected to show evidence of their readership and commitment to covering parliamentary proceedings. In recent years sites such as BuzzFeed News, HuffPost, and Politico have been granted passes, enabling their reporters to be based out of Westminster alongside broadcasters and traditional newspapers.
There are currently no representatives of the new group of hyperpartisan left-wing websites – something that the sites now want to change. The White House press corps went through an equivalent process following Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election, when many upstart right-leaning pro-Trump websites were allowed into briefings.
The Canary's editor said the site is considering whether to apply for a lobby pass, although the focus is currently on expansion and building the site's Canary TV project.
"It's really important to increase the diversity of media outlets that are interrogating our government and our opposition parties and we hope to see more new media outlets involved," said Kerry-Anne Mendoza.
One of the main challenges for the sites, if successful in their application, could be funding a London-based employee to work as their lobby correspondent. Many of them survive on donations from readers and limited advertising revenue. Although many of the leading left-leaning viral sites report seeing substantial growth in income, most still rely on part-time writers based outside the capital.
Journalistic standards at the upstart sites have faced repeated criticism from existing outlets. The Canary has had to delete false stories while other similar pro-Corbyn sites such as Skwawkbox have been criticised for indulging conspiracy theories about Grenfell Tower.
Turner defended Evolve Politics' open bias and said it was no different to existing publications with reporters based in the lobby.
"We wear our political allegiances on our sleeve," he said. "Much of the right-wing press, like The Sun, still try and claim that they are objectively reporting the salient issues of the day. That is nonsense. If they think we’re 'too biased' to be a part of the lobby, they ought to look in the mirror. We’re not asking for special treatment, just a fair playing field."
Other openly partisan sites with lobby passes include the pro-Tory ConservativeHome, LabourList, and BrexitCentral, which is staffed by former Vote Leave employees. Guido Fawkes was one of the first web-only outlets to be granted a pass, while the openly hard-left Morning Star has had a long presence in the lobby.
Turner has previously said the topics that drive most traffic to his site are criticising Conservative hypocrisy, critiquing the BBC's political coverage, and exposing anti-Corbyn factions within the Labour party. He insists that, if Evolve Politics is allowed into the lobby system, it would not be awkward to work alongside the people he has criticised.
"There’s no hard feelings. I’d be there to do a job and to hold this shambolic government to account, not indulge some kind of alternative media vs mainstream media feud," he said.
"I know people say that Westminster is like a playground but I’d like to think they would have a little bit of emotional maturity. In fact, I’d love to sit down with some of them and dissect the reasoning behind what we’re saying about the systemic bias present in the British media."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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