The press gallery is ebullient at the moment and I can understand why. After years of having to analyse the same old government faces and drain the collective wisdom about political personalities to the point of seemingly-endless repetition they now have a new toy to play with.
No more do these journalists have to search their minds for some new take on Helen Clark or some fresh way to disguise their personal view of Michael Cullen into analysis. You can almost hear the sigh of relief in the articles about Paula Bennett or Steven Joyce. “Finally”, the gallery says, “we can show how much more we know about the game than the average punter. And we don’t even need to do any deep analysis!”
Let me be clear before I offend all of the gallery that I use the term generically. There are some very good minds in there and there are some hacks (I’ll leave you to decide which is which).
But disclaimers aside it needs to be said that the response by some gallery reporters is quite frankly giddy. Poneke has described their overuse of the term “bolter” quite nicely but I would add that the real issue is how clearly the rise of personality has come to dominate the political reportage.
There’s a reason for this. If you talk to anyone involved in the Herald online or Stuff they’ll tell you that political stories rank very low in the hit count. The big winners are entertainment and sex. Check out the “most read” of these sites (or “most viewed” in TV3) on any given day and the list is peppered with celebrity stories and stories with “boobs” in the title.
To compete with this, and with the cheap sensationalist copy that is the crime story, political journalists need a hook. That hook is personality. Issues that are too complicated are a turnoff to browsing readers but make politics a realm of celebrity and report on it as a soap opera of personality clashes and you’ve got something salable. Interesting, even.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think gallery journalists explicitly decide that is what works but I do think that it is a situation that the market has evolved toward and that is has come as a result of a news industry focused on profits at the expense of good information.
In the meantime it facilitates the sort of PR opportunities that Crosby Textor and outfits on the left are quick to take advantage of and I predict that over the next few years we will increasingly see politicians marketed like commodities in the style of the “brand Key” model.
Owns an ipod or hangs with King Kapisi? Or with a couple of ex-all blacks? Uses facebook or has a pretty wife/interesting husband? That’s good copy. And keep an eye out for greater use of social networking sites in the style of Barack Obama’s campaign as politicians are obliged spill more and more of their personal lives in order to “connect” with voters. What a game.