Praxis Makes Perfect: Mic Wright
Media critic and freelance journalist Mic Wright delivers a daily, irreverent, insider take on how news industry players play politics.
Welcome to the first in my new interview series: Praxis Makes Perfect!
Are you one of those SJW bores that want to make the world better? But, let me guess — half a century of neoliberalism and your worsening Twitter addiction has drained you of any sense of agency and battered your brain like a Mars bar, and you just don’t know how!
Begin by getting to know the people already doing the work, and following their lead. This will help you find your lane.
This series will introduce you to other media critics, activists, and persons of interest to engage with.
Each one will also focus on praxis: an action of some kind that allows you to put into practice whatever the interviewee’s work centers around - today’s is: Media Literacy.
Who better to start this series than someone who has helped develop my understanding of the way the British media industry really works: Mic Wright.
Wright is a freelance journalist with an excellent Substack newsletter on political journalism: Conquest of the Useless, which lands in inboxes early each morning to explode one of the day’s headlines.
He specialises in breaking down the British press’ treatment of political news, infused with the gallows humour needed to stomach it, and topped off by screaming tabloid puns-on-steroids. It’s like reading a satirical sketch show and studying for a history test on Britain’s media ecosystem at the same time — an accessible breakdown of the way different outlets and hacks are covering and/or manipulating political agendas.
At his Twitch channel, he hosts ‘The Paper Thing’ and does a breakdown of newspaper frontpages into their spin/comment/briefing data/furniture sections.
In his own words: “it’s my job to stare into the abyss, laugh when the abyss snarls, “What are you looking at?”, then bring you an analysis of exactly what the abyss is up to.”
(He’s also the ONLY writer I’ve seen with the correct take on Emma Barnett.)
1. Hello Mic! Introduce yourself.
I’m a writer, journalist, and self-appointed media critic. I write a daily email newsletter called Conquest of the Useless. I’ve been writing professionally since 2005 and I’ve written about everything from pensions and finance to music, technology, and politics. In recent years I’ve written a lot about internet culture and the political implications of technology. Which all makes me sound very full of myself.
2. Tell us about your career so far.
I started out straight out of university with the trade magazine Pensions World, before going to Stuff magazine as front section editor around the time the first iPhone came out. I then got my dream job — which turned out to not be so dreamy in reality — as an editor on the now sadly defunct music title Q. After I left there I went freelance and have been ever since. For a time I was a token leftish voice on the also defunct Telegraph Blogs but I’ve moved substantially further left since then.
At other points during my long time as a freelancer, I’ve been on staff at tech outlet The Next Web, developed events and booked speakers for The Web Summit, and spent a year or so as head of communications for a small software firm.
3. Do you call yourself a ‘media critic’ or is that a title others have given you? Either way, what is the end goal of that role for you?
It’s a bit of both. It’s a handy two-word description I use for myself but other people called me one first and I ran with it.
I’m not sure there’s an end goal but I hope to just help some people better interpret the news and commentary they’re presented with.
4. Which other writers/organisations do you think are doing important work in the field of media criticism and activism?
I think Novara often does good media criticism and analysis. Mark McGowan (aka the Artist Taxi Driver) has been breaking down the papers for a long time. I’m also a big fan of podcasts like TrashFuture, Left/Over, Reel Politik, and Podcasting Is Praxis. And on YouTube and Twitch people like Tom Nicholas and Sinan Kose do good stuff.
5. Do you consider yourself an activist?
6. If you could boil it down to three things that need to be changed about the media industry what would they be?
It needs to be more transparent — the lack of disclosure of conflicts of interest is rampant and means many readers are denied knowledge of why certain writers back certain causes. How can it be right for someone like James Forsyth to analyse the government without noting that his wife works for that government?
It needs to be more inclusive and take diversity seriously — one look at the composition of the comment sections of most newspapers and the credits of most TV shows reveals how unserious most diversity efforts actually are.
And, as an extension of that last point, it needs to actually engage with younger people. A new generation of writers hasn’t been allowed to take the big slots in newspapers or on TV and radio so the mainstream of the British media feels stale. It’s like a ‘90s dinner party that’s gone on for two decades too long.
7. You critique papers and journalism mainly. Do you also follow similar trends/issues in tv, film, etc?
I do follow TV, film, and other areas of the media. I want to write more on them and when I’m able to get out and about more I’ll be doing more reporting on those issues. I also want to get the income from the newsletter up so I can commission other people to contribute.
8. Do you consider yourself ‘on the left’?
Yes, I’m on the left. I used to be more centrist in my twenties but have moved increasingly left over time. It’s a product of reading more, listening to a wider range of voices, and becoming increasingly radicalised by inequalities in my industry and society more widely.
9. Your style is particularly irreverent. Is this a political choice (i.e. a sort of tabloid-response)?
A lot of media criticism is really good but very dry. I write the way I do because I want people to keep reading.
10. From the perspective of being in the media industry, are there any specific moments or trends that you’ve experienced as a journo that ‘turned you into’ a media critic, or is it something you’ve always been interested in?
A lot of things contributed to me feeling the way I do. I enjoy the process of telling stories as a journalist but being within the industry has increasingly made me feel that some of the most important voices aren’t heard and that the most powerful outlets don’t do their job properly.
11. You write every day, and post early. How much time do you spend reading the news vs writing?
I read a lot of stuff throughout the day and the newsletter that gets published early in the morning is usually a distillation of things I was thinking the day before. Sometimes though I get up and find another story has broken or something’s been published which means I shift the topic on the hoof.
12. How do you find Substack as an alternative to traditional freelancing?
I don’t think Substack is an alternative to freelancing unless you have a huge platform that you’re leaving to write a newsletter / are getting an advance from Substack itself. The income from my newsletter is essentially the equivalent of one or two freelance pieces at the moment so I definitely need to do other things to keep myself going.
My most recent big freelance piece was about a commune that was accused of being a cult by TikTok users but I also write a tech column for a smallish magazine called Perspectives and have recently started contributing to The Big Issue. Obviously writing a newsletter that slags off most of the papers, as well as breaking down the front pages on Twitter every day, makes freelancing for the nationals a bit of a non-starter now.
13. Are there any news outlets that you think are doing an exemplary job?
I think Gal-Dem is very good. As I said before I think Novara can be great and knows exactly what it is and why it exists. I had a good experience writing for Input Mag — Mark Yarm is a very good commissioning editor — and I was really sad to see Mel Magazine go into hibernation / possibly be gone for good because a) it commissioned me to write a few wild things in the past and, more importantly, b) it had a really unusual and strong voice.
14. Favourite and least favourite paper and journalist?
I don’t have a favourite of the newspapers. I find all of them equally annoying for different reasons. My list of least favourite journalists is extremely long but Allison Pearson, Stig Abell, and Sarah Vine would probably jostle for the top spot.
Similarly, there are a lot of journalists I think are brilliant too, but given that I’m talking to you in the week that Sirin Kale (along with Lucy Osborne) broke the story about Noel Clarke, I definitely think she’s one of the best in the business right now. She consistently produces features and news stories that are worth reading and finds angles that other people don’t notice.
Thanks to Mic for taking the time to answer my questions - go and subscribe to his newsletter! Why not start off your activist career by taking a media literacy lesson from his newspaper front-page breakdowns.
Stay tuned for more Chompsky interviews with people doing important work in media/politics/workers rights.
And please share with others you think might be interested!