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Mehdi Hasan’s new media channel: activism as journalism

Mehdi Hasan is entering a crowded market

April 17, 2024 - 1:00pm

Former MSNBC commentator Mehdi Hasan has this week officially launched his new media company, Zeteo, which bills itself as a place “where independent and unfiltered journalism is making its comeback”. The site is currently operating via self-publishing platform Substack.

Despite its aspirational claims, Zeteo’s headline-grabbing masthead is, for now, a grab-bag of celebrity activists including Greta Thunberg, Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon, Naomi Klein, and comedian W. Kamau Bell. Former CNN reporter John Harwood is one of the few experienced journalists on the list.

Given the site’s line-up, one of the major challenges Hasan will face is a tight market in which demand for partisan commentary is well satisfied by social media. Political influencers with followings in the millions deliver charged, engagement-primed content at low cost. Competing with the entrenched competition, while having to compensate contributors with the star wattage of Thunberg and Nixon, will not be easy. Eventually, the bill will come due.

But Hasan also faces another challenge: his own brand. When his show was cancelled last year, Hasan hit a ratings nadir of 37,000 viewers in the key demographic of viewers aged 25-54, a tiny fraction of what Fox’s top-rated news shows bring in. The presenter claims that he left MSNBC in order to “get my own voice back” — particularly in relation to the Gaza war, during which he has been a strident critic of Israel’s conduct.

There’s more to that story, though. Since 1 October, Hasan has failed to cross the threshold of 500,000 total viewers per show, a dismal number by any standard. One likely explanation is that as Hasan’s coverage became focused intensely on Gaza at the expense of other major events, and his rhetoric continued to ramp up, viewers turned away.

This is precisely the double edge of the sword Hasan is wielding, for Zeteo’s content is focused almost exclusively on Israel. At the time of writing, its main feature is a heated discussion between Hasan and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Aside from a “Welcome to Zeteo” item, every single piece on the site’s “Most Popular” sidebar focuses on Israel or Gaza. Even Hasan’s inaugural monologue was focused on the topic. And of the remaining nine items on the page, six focus on — you guessed it — Israel.

Israel is, of course, a hot topic in the news at the moment, but the question is whether a “media organisation,” as Hasan describes it, can be built on an almost monomaniacal pursuit of a single issue, no matter how compelling it may be.

Finally, Hasan will be battling a macro trend in the media, where layoffs, closures, and downsizing are seemingly becoming the plat du jour of an embattled industry. Without very deep pockets backing the venture, and with production costs being infamously unscalable, it’s hard to see how Zeteo survives, let alone thrives amid the wreckage of great news brands.

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Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago

Good grief, when practically every unknown with an opinion has a podcast, who would waste a single blink of an eye on this creepy little midget?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

Would love to see the subscriber numbers for someone like this. Same with Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo. Outside the massive network platform they were gifted, are these people capable of building an audience on their own?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Lemon and Cuomo are anchormen more than they are journalists. Neither has much in the way of insight or analytical ability. Hasan isn’t a journalist either, he’s a politician using the media as a platform – much like Owen Jones.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago

Brits will remember Hasan for his description of us as ‘cattle’ during one of his mosque ‘lectures’ back in the noughties. I think he is yet another ‘journalist’ whose motives have little to do with objectivity or truth.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 month ago

Haven’t followed his career very closely, but he always comes across as being powerfully, overwhelmingly smug.

Ben H
Ben H
1 month ago

This type of ‘journalism’ is Marxism masquerading as investigating.

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben H

It’s Islamism masquerading as Marxism masquerading as investigating

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
1 month ago

…so who’s backing him can we wonder?

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
1 month ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

Iran most likely. He’s a fundamentalist Shia.

Unwoke S
Unwoke S
1 month ago

I wonder if Mehdi will discuss on his new platform his earlier rather obsequious application for a job with the Daily Mail.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
1 month ago

Hasan is an Islamist propagandist, always has been, always will be. He’s become adept at using democracy’s rights, freedoms, and media channels to plug his religion, but it looks like people are catching on. His obsessive focus on Israel is totally in character. As a commenter noted earlier, when addressing his co-religionists – he’s also an imam – he makes his utter contempt for non-believers very clear. Otherwise, he wears whatever mask promotes the cause of Islam.

Miriam Cotton
Miriam Cotton
1 month ago

All journalism is activism whether journalists know or intend it or not. This piece is a good example. Hasan’s focus on the genocide in Palestine fills a profound gap in coverage and perspective on the atrocities being committed by US-EU-Israel.

Claire D
Claire D
1 month ago

Hasan has publicly stated that non Muslims are Kuffirs. Are cattle. That exist in a Godless state as mere animals.
Hasan is an Islamic supremacist is disguise

Paul T
Paul T
1 month ago

Awful, shouty, aggressive and rude little man.