Anti-Brexit activity flooded the media attention market in 2017

Brexit coverage dominated much of the media this year, as we discovered in Kaleida’s 2017 Year in Review where we looked at news and how attention patterns evolved from month to month. One publisher led most of the activity, but alt media sources are on the rise.

While the vote for Brexit may have surprised many in 2016, the backlash was palpable this year in the form of media coverage and engagement metrics. Nowhere is this more dramatic than with the success of The Independent, a national newspaper in the UK that went digital only in 2016.

Anti-Brexit sentiment was a huge theme this year, and they owned the story in the UK.

Seven of the Top 10 stories about Brexit in 2017 ranked by total Facebook engagements were Independent pieces, all of them anti-Brexit in tone. The first clearly pro-Brexit story in the rankings falls deep on the list at number 21.

Interestingly, the source of that story is not one of the mainstream newspapers typically supporting the government’s views such as The Telegraph, The Times or even the Daily Mail. The story is by alt-media source Westmonster, a blog funded by Arron Banks, the leading funder of the Brexit campaign.

Ironically, most of the Brexit stories that have done well for The Telegraph and the Daily Mail are the stories that challenge the support for Brexit or PM Theresa May’s position on it such as “Ruth Davidson planning Scottish Tory breakaway as she challenges Theresa May’s Brexit plan”

Otherwise, coverage by these leading newspapers is not getting the kind of attention they often get for other subjects, particularly compared to the success of The Independent.

The Independent produced 3,694 articles about Brexit in 2017 which accounts for about 5% of their total output. Only The Guardian and The Times produced as many stories. The other leading newspapers produced half that amount. The digital only news sources published less.

On average The Independent’s stories were about 560 words in length, and most stories earned around 50 engagements each. But when they took off they really took off.

The activity pattern across the year for all Brexit coverage was relatively steady with a dramatic dip in the month of May. It was then that the UK election was in full swing, and media attention was clearly elsewhere.

However, immediately following the election in early June and the chaos that ensued a wave of Brexit activity arrived driven increasingly by alt media sources. Westmonster led the pack, but The Canary, Breitbart, Your News Wire, Brexit Central, Guido Fawkes and Another Angry Voice brought engagement growth for Brexit coverage in the months that followed.

Between them these smaller media orgs published about 1,500 Brexit stories. The most successful was Westmonster’s article, “Morrisons vows to only sell British meat — Massive Brexit boost for farmers” with nearly 50,000 engagements. While this is an order of magnitude smaller than The Independent’s top story the trend line is showing increasing relevance both for Westmonster and Breitbart on Brexit issues.

Interestingly, a small dip in the number of reactions (likes, smiley faces, angry faces, etc.) occurred in the late Summer across all Brexit coverage compared with all other coverage, mainstream and alt media alike. Comments and Shares remained steady or even climbed toward the end of the year.

The increases in attention toward the end of the year point to an interesting change on the horizon. While common sense might suggest Brexit is becoming less interesting over time, the numbers indicate that it is in fact more important to people than ever. Perhaps Brexit is a catalyst for other political discussions happening on Facebook. Perhaps the dramatic nature of the issues and the personalities involved is Facebook fodder.

Regardless, the data is clear that attention for Brexit coverage is still driven by anti-Brexit voices, while a pro-Brexit minority is gaining momentum.

Analysis: Facebook performance declined for news published in 2017

Half of the 1.5M articles tracked by Kaleida in 2017 earned less than 36 engagements. By the end of the year the bottom half accounted for merely 0.03% of the engagements that we counted. Download the full report PDF (11MB).

Some areas of coverage were more successful than others. And not all engagements are the same, as we found out when analysing engagements patterns for Sports coverage. But even in the case of Football coverage the overall trend across 2017 was down.

A change in Facebook’s reporting methodology masks the change, as the highest-performing stories, the ones that really go viral, bring the total number of engagements to new heights while the rest of the market gradually fails to reach readers on the platform.

The implications for news are important to understand.

First, this news wasn’t exactly buried, but it wasn’t given much air time either. Facebook dropped a lot of new stuff on the market in 2017, and making a fundamental change to the core metric of the wider Facebook ecosystem seems like it might have been worth more than a footnote on a blog post.

They have redefined what engagements are several times, and now Facebook has revalued its own currency. The volatility of the system will surely affect Facebook’s relationships with the companies they wish to serve.

Second, it means the growth most large news organisations noticed in the Summer wasn’t of their own doing. That’s not to say their efforts were worthless. It just means publishers may not have much influence on the numbers they are seeing.

Similarly, agencies seeing campaigns taking off in the Summer may have thought they succeeded when in fact it was just numbers changing on reporting tools.

Third, we may be witnessing a decline in Facebook’s influence on news. The new numbers are hiding it in plain sight.

The median average engagements number, the 50th percentile or half of all articles, has been declining most of the year. In Spring the median engagements figure was 36. And now in December that number is down to 23.

Total month-to-month engagements may look encouraging, but the highest performers are the only ones to benefit. The bottom 90% of articles are all in a steady decline.

While it may appear as if the company is obscuring an overall decline by introducing a topline increase, we don’t know what Facebook’s intentions are with this change. It’s conceivable this pattern started well before the change and that we are only now seeing truth with more accurate figures than what we had access to before.

Sampling would surely skew toward flatter growth in a viral system, and now that they report ‘real’ engagements, as they claim, we might be seeing patterns that have been there for years.

Regardless, the larger trend is not good news for news. If most of the news is getting shared less and less on Facebook then publishers will likely also see a reduction in an important source of customer visits, both new customers and loyal customers.

The true test is the amount of referral traffic to publishers from Facebook. A decline in both referrals and engagements would have serious implications for the industry. Recent analysis from suggests this is already happening.

The data may be getting clearer, but the reality behind what that data is showing us may not be what news media wants to see.

Download the full End of Year 2017 report

The full report is available as a free download. Download the PDF (11MB) here.


Kaleida is a data services and media research company. The company provides data, tools and analysis about the attention economy to companies who do business in the media ecosystem.

News publishers can learn about platform referral traffic and get performance benchmarks to compare against the market by joining Kaleida’s news referral research project:

Why we’re doing and how you can help

The idea for the Internet’s news desk is based on things some of us have been thinking about while trying to solve problems for the journalism trade over the years. is off to a good start, but it needs writers to write, editors to edit, and members to help fund the journalism that gets made via this new platform.

A few years ago I spent some time sitting with the news desk at The Guardian. I was trying to understand the process a little better so I could recommend ways we could apply some of the fantastic technology resources in the building to improve things.

The experience gave us some ideas that led to what we’re doing at now. (See analysis by Nieman Lab an

The most eye-opening thing for me was seeing how much goes into producing the stories every day. As readers that process is totally invisible to us.

We don’t know about all the stories that weren’t good enough to get published. We don’t know about the interrogation Guardian editors give reporters and each other with every piece. We don’t know about the context brought through from deep knowledge of a beat, the history of a story and the framing for it amongst all the other things being published. We don’t know about the checks and balances, the policies and routines, and the standards that professional journalists have built up over the years. And we don’t know about all the people involved in a story ensuring it meets those standards.

It’s so easy for anyone to put words on a page on the Internet and to make it look the same as any other news web site that the casual observer just doesn’t know the difference anymore.

Adding to the problem for us as observers is the fact that the process is closed and rigid. Editors protect the process because it works. Great journalism is very hard. And the process I saw delivers great results. But in today’s connected world this kind of process could be opened up in ways that could make it even better and certainly more accessible to people who are hungry to be part of the journalism community.

What would an open news desk for the Internet look like?

We tried a version of the idea at The Guardian with crowdfunding cooked into the model. We called it Contributoria. It was mostly successful, actually, but having a corporate owner looking for short term ROI was an impossible position for a community platform. Plus, they already had one of the best news desks in the world.

So, we closed it down, left The Guardian and started over completely, this time as an independent nonprofit with a much longer term view on this challenge.

Now we can genuinely put the community first. We have to. It’s codified in the structure of the organization. And we can make it better even though the core intent is the same.

What we’re building at is the Internet’s news desk.

The whole point is to make quality independent journalism possible at a global scale by creating a process that is both open to a community that wants journalism to succeed and also organized to maintain high standards. It’s not about left or right or any political agenda. It’s about enabling journalism for the benefit of everyone.

Of course, being nonprofit doesn’t mean we don’t have to make money. We can’t operate without money. Being nonprofit means that our profits, or rather “surplus funds”, get reinvested back into the community we serve.

The more we collect, the better journalism will be served.

We raised €160,000 so far this year which we have used to build the core platform and to start paying journalists.

Next year we are going to need €300,000. I’ve posted about that over here if you want to know more about the financial plan.

There are lots of ways to help us reach that goal. We are actively looking for foundation grants, coverage sponsors, and paying members. Let us know if you are interested in any of those things.

The other thing you can do, whether you’ve joined or not, is to introduce us to your friends and peers. Send an email. Post on Facebook. Tell us who we should reach out to.

Every contribution is critical to our ability to operate.

We are aware that we aren’t the only journalism outlet looking for your support. We genuinely hope that you are supporting others, too. Journalism needs as much support as it can get.

We hope you support because you value professional journalism and that you want to make that process accessible to more people. Help us to distribute some of the best things about the traditional news room into the wild open Internet for the benefit of everyone.