Sunday, 9 March 2008

Why journalists have their snouts in the politician's trough.


It is received wisdom that we are much less deferential to our politicians than ever before. We are told that the media has never been so powerful, nor our leaders ever so scrutinised.

In fact it has never been easier for a politician to influence the media than today. Never before have politicians been less scared of our nations journalists and never before have readers been more poorly served.

In the past, all newspaper stories had to be fought for on street corners, with each journalist using their ingenuity, contacts and perseverance not just to get a scoop but to get a better scoop than everyone else.

But those days have now past.

Newspapers are now routinely constructed from the sedentary position. Both the internet and freedom of information requests means that journalists no longer need leave their desks. Often a journalist's deepest investigation will be of the choice of ciabattas at the staff canteen.

And in the land of anti-social journalism, the PR man is king. Devoid of scoops and mired in commentary, your average Isle of Dogs hack has become a sitting target for the incoming press release flak. 

Take the Conservative retreat on defence spending. This was by any measure an embarrassing climb-down, but eager to cover incoming fire, they sent out press releases claiming that the government had broken the military covenant and that the Conservatives would not reduce spending. Anyone interested in what the headline was for that press release should just take a look at some of the headlines it produced.

The Metro: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable that the Conservatives would cut the defence budget."

Daily Star: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable that the Conservatives would cut the defence budget."

The Guardian: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox:"I find it inconceivable..."

Selkirk Weekend Advertiser: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable..."

Sunday Express: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable.."

MOD News: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable..."

Liverpool Echo: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable.."

The list of identical stories goes on much longer than I have the patience to list here, but what is interesting is that not one of the papers questions why this press release was sent out. Not one paper sought to question the party line to even the most trivial degree.

At the end of another day reprocessing the words of PR men, your average hack at your average rag, merely cuts and pastes and clicks publish. Day by day this is repeated and day by day readers desert them. 

And as PR agencies boom, newspapers bust, and the best creative and journalistic talent are lost to Public Relations. 

Yet whilst the business-end of newspaper offices are now manned by work experience kids and unpaid interns, the headlines and leaders remain in the hands of those with contacts. In fact it is the old fellas who lunch with our leaders who now almost solely hold sway. 

While once a newspaper editor's most valued asset was his reporters, the job of bringing in the scoops now lands almost solely in the laps of the politicians and their dining chums.

The effect of this all is the merging of the establishment and the media. It is politicians and their mates alone who now create the stories we read. Scoops come from lunches, leaks and moles; spin, counter-spin and spin-in-advance. Put simply, the value of a story is no longer measured by the amount of door-steps mounted but by the number of dinner bills accumulated. 

With every prime joint scoffed, and fine wine sloshed, our top journalist's bums get even further wedged into their seats. And from their doggy bags and leftovers, a weary nation is fed.

2 comments:

procrastanist said...

Good blog like the focus on one party.

The Tory Troll said...

Thanks procrastanist, I appreciate it. Keep coming back :)