Saturday, June 07, 2008

Why politicians court journalists

Really, not time at the moment to post at any length. But I saw this earlier:

Martin Kettle: Politicians overestimate the importance of newspapers.

My quick reading of it suggests that he may have missed something here. Firstly, politicians - like anyone else - will put efforts into things if they think that they will get some change out of it.

Sure - Labour voters may read the Daily Mail and still vote Labour, and newspapers don't dictate what their readers do in the polling booth. But newspapers can change the way some people vote. Not all of their readers, obviously - and maybe not even most of them. But they can change some of them. It may even be the case that newspaper editors can change more peoples' minds than anyone else. Not with one editorial, but with a sustained strategic deployment of news values.

Courting a newspaper editor may result in them being less willing to change the public's minds - and editors do like to think that they can do this as well. It is the one thing that politicians feel that they can do with concrete results.

Politicians will note that changes in voting intentions are not always linked to their own performance as well. Labour's unpopularity at the moment, for example, can be put down to lots of different factors, many beyond their control. So, they will focus on the things they can influence - and the disposition of a newspaper editor is a lot more likely to respond to a bit of cajolery than a price-setting oil cartel.

Kettle says:
Only a fool would say that newspapers have absolutely no influence at all on politics, or say that there is no reason whatever why politicians should try to get good coverage in newspapers. But the rewards to politicians from such efforts are marginal at best, even in elections.
And he's right. But all of the other options before them have benefits that are even more marginal. Anyone with any sense just fixes what they can fix, and they let the rest go. A problem you can't do anything about isn't a problem, it's an aggravation. Politicians think that they can fix the problem of hostile journalism by a bit of crawling to the editors. That's why they do it - and the ones that don't are less successful than the ones that do.

Update - 8/6: I've just seen that Chris has posted on a similar subject. He's drawn different conclusions, but then he's not as keen on politicians as I am.

1 comment:

a very public sociologist said...

Given NuLab's penchant for courting the Mail, they might as well give Iain Dale and Guido a punt too.