A big theme of my first vist to conference was the dawning realisation just how wide the gulf is between the real conference and the one in the media’s parallel world. But something that intrigued me was looking at the Guardian’s coverage. Each day, there would be a big article on leadership guff, more or less. But the stories that surrounded them were what caught my eye. It seems that, the more interesting to the Guardian the subject of some debate or fringe event is, the less personality gloss is required. So, for instance, on the fighting of the war on terror, Paddy was able to get what amounted to a massive advert for a speech with huge chunks simply reprinted. Charles Kennedy getting some warm applause was enough to get a report on the tax and benefits policies debated into the paper.
Noticeable all week was the general rule of thumb, often alluded to by Michael White, incidentally (“It is true the media loves this sort of speculation“), that the more the story can be bookended with personality politics, the easier it is for the political hacks to sneak some actual substance into the paper. So I propose that we feed the press personality-driven dressing for serious policy when we send out press releases. The personality value of this dressing needs to be in inverse proportion to the press interest of the substance.
So the war on terror, Iraq, green issues and tax probably need very little. A story about Education, Health or somesuch worthy major area might be accompanied by some drivel about, ooh, say Steve Webb standing for leader on a platform of making it our only policy. And if we want to get constitutional issues and PR into the papers, all we need to do is stage a heated argument (perhaps over whether or not AV is an acceptable intermediate step) between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne which inadvertently blows the cover on a long running affair they’ve been having in the process.
OK, so maybe I’m being cynical about all this. Paul Walter urges us today to “work with the media rather than constantly belittling them”. I know he’s right, but it’s just so hard when they persist in taking such risible reporting decisions.