Harry and Meghan may say they fled Britain to California to escape media intrusion, but the truth is that the British press is establishing itself in America like never before.
Britain’s biggest news publisher Reach is preparing to launch US websites for its Mirror and Express titles and is recruiting around 100 journalists to work in offices in New York. The US Sun, an offshoot of Rupert Murdoch’s British Red Top, is the fastest growing news site in the States; it had 267 million page views in November, a 110 percent increase over 2021.
Three British titles – The Guardian, Daily Mail and The Independent – are among the eight largest US print media websites, along with the New York Times, New York Post, Washington Post, USA Today and LA Times. As a digital-only site, The Independent outperformed BuzzFeed, HuffPost and Vox, according to ComScore data for September.
In their Netflix series, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex seek to turn the streamer’s global audience against British tabloids and their peculiar methods. They make legitimate accusations of racial bias and pushy reporting, claiming that rival royals have made deals. Harry even blamed the Mail for Meghan having a miscarriage.
With vitriolic attacks such as Jeremy Clarkson’s latest column in The Sun, the Sussexes deserve all the sympathy, even if their own media campaign makes them unpopular. But American audiences can now judge British titles for themselves, and it seems many like what they read.
The Daily Mail now averages 70 million unique visitors per month in America, and its November traffic was up 7 percent over last year. It operates huge newsrooms in New York and Los Angeles and has a permanent seat in the White House briefing room.
It has recruited top American commentators, including Meghan McCain of ABC News and Maureen Callahan of the New York Post. American popular media have been captivated by the Mail’s boots-on-the-ground reporting prowess and willingness to buy pictures. Its influence has grown since it launched its US site with a small team in 2011.
The Guardian US opened the same year, prompting US media to report a “British invasion”. Today it has 120 reporters and offices in Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York. Americans account for 30 percent of The Guardian’s global audience. Edited by American Betsy Reed, Guardian US had 249 million page views in November, up 10 percent year-on-year.
The Sun was slower to market, launching in 2020. By investing gradually, it has grown to almost 100 journalists. It shares offices in New York with colleagues from Murdoch’s New York Post, Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Sun reporters are based on the West Coast and in Florida, Texas and Chicago.
Natalie Evans, editor of the US Sun, estimates that more than 70 percent of the journalists in her youthful newsroom are women. A similar percentage are Americans. “You need the born and raised Americans,” she says. “We came out to be an American website for an American audience, and we don’t want to be a bunch of Brits telling Americans what to read.”
The US Sun has led rivals to report on US stories, including the murder of Gabby Petito, a YouTuber who was strangled by her fiancé on a road trip in Wyoming. It revealed that Steven Spielberg’s daughter worked as a porn actress.
The Sun’s digital director Will Payne claims The Sun has a less formal voice than US tabloids. “We are to the point and quite chatty in the way we communicate.” He claims the site is “only scratching the surface” of potential audience figures, but admits its journey has been a “struggle” that depended on committed backing from News Corp.
Now Reach is making a similar bet on America. Ben Rankin, National Audience Director at Reach, says a potential collaboration makes him “very confident” of success. “One thing we have that our competitors don’t is that we go out there with two titles and one new one.” Reach also launches the Irish Star (based on the Irish version of the Daily Star and aimed at Irish-Americans).
The Mirror and Express pages will focus on news, sport and showbiz. Rankin believes the Mirror can set itself apart from other tabloids by showing greater “compassion” in its reporting, as its print edition aims to do. The Express already attracts a significant American audience for its coverage of politics and the royal family.
Nic Newman of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism says British brands need to be “super distinctive” to break through in America. Those that do may be “natural alternatives for US audiences”, says Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis. More than a decade after the British invasion, the British press has taken root in America. Meghan and Harry will not change that.