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The view from the media room

Written By: - Date published: 11:51 am, July 8th, 2014 - 16 comments
Categories: labour, Media - Tags: , ,

It was an interesting weekend for me. Since 2012 I’ve been going to Labour conferences as “media” rather than as a delegate. This is in large part because I have been avoiding the hurly burly of being involved in Labour party campaigning.

I’ve had less time available with my increasing work and family life, topped off with much of my remaining spare time being taken up with running and moderating this site.  Also this site is meant to be for the broader labour movement and it isn’t a good idea to have sysop who is actively partizan for one party on the left. I also have had a personal disagreement where the Labour party had been heading after the 2008 election. Less so now.

But being media at conferences and congresses is an interesting exercise in its own right. The view looks different from the media room. Just how different I didn’t realise until I read Vernon Small’s article yesterday “Lukewarm Labour receives a pick up” and read his first few paragraphs.

Labour’s election year congress started with a whimper – as if the party was struggling to “keep the hope alive”.

All the talk of an enthusiastic campaign team, voter strategies and strong support on the ground looked for all the world like the upbeat preparations of a school first XI about to take on Brazil.

But it ended with a bang as leader David Cunliffe’s speech to a packed Michael Fowler Centre – Labour optimistically claiming more than 1000 supporters – was cheered to the rafters, especially for his promise to fund another 2000 teachers.


My first reaction was a bit of WTF! Was he at the same place that I was for that first day? But I know that he was, because I could see him across the freezing cold of the Wellington High School library1.

But I’ve been at more Labour party congresses than I really care to remember. These are the big meetings that the NZLP has in election year prior to the campaign kicking into full gear. They are largely tasked on the first day with getting the detail about the campaign communicated to the campaign teams. In elections past, I’ve really enjoyed being in those rooms listening to, questioning and commenting on those training sessions because I was involved. But generally only the activists and candidates actually involved in the campaigns find them of much interest.

But much of the interest after my first two congresses was largely in helping to explain how particular bits of the campaign processes actually operated to the newbies trying to do it for the first time. The minutiae in itself gets dead boring after you’ve done it a few times.

But they’re not like Labour conferences when all of remits are getting debated and passed/turned down. Then the activists are discussing policy ideas and politicking for their particular favourites. For media then, the place is abuzz and it is much more interesting to watch.

Since as a member of the media, I was locked out of all of the interesting bits on the first day, I was seeing it a bit more like the media do. A relatively small group of at most 300 politicians, wannabe politicians, and activists talking to each other with a healthy scepticism about talking to media. The interest for the media was the a few standups about new policy, buttonholing politicians and candidates for a quiet word, and a few speeches2.  Quite different to how the first day of the congress looks to those involved.

I was rather expecting the first day to be pretty damn boring. So I spent time doing some reading on things that I hadn’t delved into with much depth and writing posts about them. I was also just trying to get a sense of where the Labour party activists felt that they were3.

The second day is usually quite different. There more party members come in to hear the headline policies by the politicians in their various areas, and to get introduced to some of the candidates via speeches. It always finishes with a big bang speech outlining the public campaign policies. This year that was particularly effective. As Colin James (who has been to way more Labour congresses than I have) noted at the end of his latest column

* An aside in the light of last week’s column: More turned out for David Cunliffe’s keynote on Sunday and cheered more loudly than for Key’s a week earlier. Hmmm.

But offhand, apart from the congress in 1990, I can’t think of a single Labour party congress that would have been particularly interesting for media on the Saturday. It is mostly about housekeeping for the campaign. It is dead boring if you aren’t involved in the detail of various campaigns.



  1. A bit of advice to the Labour team.  If it is the middle of winter in Wellington, then please heat the rooms for media. Some of us are from Auckland and we’re not used to the weather. On Saturday, I was trying to type in a ruddy great big coat and my exposed fingers were going numb.
  2. I was doing something different. I was buttonholing a few activists, Labour staff, the odd candidate I didn’t know much about,  and spending quite a lot of time watching who was talking to whom. But I avoided the standups because I really don’t have the skills for that (I suspect it is a learned artform).
  3. But I’m much more interested about how the party activists are feeling and how much actual disagreement they were experiencing. Having the words “The Standard” on my media badge usually actively relaxed the ones who don’t know me by sight 🙂   But the activists according to my read are feeling pretty good. They (like me) have no idea how this election will turn out, but they can all see that National has made themselves vunerable.

16 comments on “The view from the media room ”

  1. karol 1

    Thanks, Lynn. A very useful report, showing views from both an insider and outsider perspective, unlike that of the main political journalists re the Labour Party reporting.

    Interesting the quote from Colin James about the bigger and more enthusiastic turn-out and response to Cunliffe than for Key at the Nats’ conference.

    • lprent 1.1

      I thought so as well about that little tag at the end of article. I’m going to be interested in what he reports later in the week.

      The Labour party people are probably as happy and focused now as they were back in 1999. Really intent on being disciplined and getting a good result.

      The Greens I know are far far more focused than I have ever seen them.

      I suspect National is going to really have a problem this election. They’re going to have good clear and cohesive ideas coming at them from several directions. It is notable that they don’t appear to have any good ideas of their own at present.

      • ianmac 1.1.1

        The bits I saw online seemed to show a more robust spontaneous audience than National’s and brief views of the National audience there were only grey (blue rinse) heads visible whereas at the Labour do, there seemed to be a wide cross-section of hair colours. What does it all mean? Rebirth? Regrowth? Positiveness? Hope so.

        • mickysavage

          Yep a few years ago I used to be one of the youngest there. Now I am feeling my age …

          There was a good blend of ages, ethnicities, socio economic statuses and genders present. A bit like New Zealand really …

          • LynWiper

            My thoughts exactly on the audience makeup mickeysavage. A truly diverse and real representation of New Zealanders. I was so glad I attended on Sunday and was very impressed with how cohesively the whole day ran. Heartened by how genuine all the speakers were, I also thoroughly enjoyed hearing from four of the new candidates who shared their individual stories and reasons for standing with refreshing passion and heart. Labour looks to be in very capable hands. David Cunliffe spoke naturally and delivered his speech superbly, concluding the day perfectly. Very encouraging indeed.

      • Macro 1.1.2

        ” It is notable that they don’t appear to have any good ideas of their own at present.”
        Have they ever?

  2. Ad 2

    The helpful point about this post is that it invites the Labour campaign to consider messaging to the public through the eyes of the media staff themselves. Rather than railing righteous when they seem to do our beloved politicians wrong.

    They need handlers. They need charming, wining, dining, and loving. Yes loving.

    They need fresh stories with a variety of angles, not just the ones that are good for the story-wholesaler. They will only embed into your team when they trust you.

    They are of course a hateful and biased bunch – understood – but it is the media not the politicians these days who hold the keys to the hearts and minds of the voting public. Politicians and journalists are equally loathed, so there’s no skin off anyone’s nose here.

    So turn the heater on next time. Get them their favourite slippers.
    Treat them like the First Class passengers on an A380.

    The media staff, not the public, are the client.

    • Anne 2.1

      Excellent points Ad.

      Labour has never done comfort and TLC very well. From my own experiences over the years the venues are either stiflingly hot but none of the organisers think to open any windows, or they’re freezing cold and none of them think to close the windows. It usually requires the somewhat embarrassing exercise of climbing over the audiences’ bodies to get to someone and ask them to do something about it.

      My other little bug bear…. when the leader of the Labour Party is being interviewed for the main networks
      (eg. Q&A or The Nation) can’t somebody control the off-stage noise emanating from excitable delegates who appear not to comprehend that there isn’t much use conducting these interviews if the TV audience can’t hear what is being said.

      Ahhh that’s better. Waited years to get the above off my chest.

    • mickysavage 2.2

      Agreed Al that a charm offensive is now in order. I think that the Standard’s previous criticism of some of the worst media excesses was warranted though and would like to think that we collectively managed to get the media to reflect on issues. A recent example is the Donghua Liu stuff and the Herald did show some signs of being embarrassed.

      I don’t mind the media criticising Labour occasionally as long as it is shared around …

  3. ianmac 3

    Getting sick of Bryce Edwards. His roundup goes mostly for the negative anti-Labour commentary. Balanced? Fair? Biased? Shouldn’t bother to read his gloop.

    • karol 3.1

      Yes. Edwards professes to know what the electorate think in this latest one – ie they are not in touch with notions of “identity politics” (by which he means gender/feminist politics, or “rape culture”. Yet reports say a high proportion of women have experienced domestic violence and/or sexual assault or violence. I guess those women aren’t on Edwards’ radar.

      • Colonial Viper 3.1.1

        Yet another player in the media commentariat who seems to be aiming for a paid gig via the Right Wing.

  4. Charlieboy 4

    Edwards quotes Claire Robinson at length about how DC came to give the speech to the Women’s Refuge forum. Utter fiction! She just makes up a story about what she thinks is going on in his head as he walks into the room, and Edwards repeats it as fact. What corn flakes packet did these dudes get their degrees out of? Their commentary is certainly flakey.

    • I found Robinson’s “analysis” a bit bizarre. It all rests on the idea that David Cunliffe had no idea who he was meeting with, he just walked out to a podium and went “oh my god, I’ve ended up at a Women’s Refuge meeting! Help!”

  5. North 5

    Robinson is bizarre. In November 2011 I suggested by email that she should “Go run a corner dairy” on the strength of her facile contribution as a panelist following the TV Leaders’ Debate, her response – “Go fuck yourself.” Wow ! I clutched my pearls. From one so erudite ?

  6. North 6

    Missed the edit – meant to add that frequently am left feeling that political ‘scientists’ wheeled so portentously onto various panels actually possess no more insight or nous than your average follower of matters political. The paucity of anything ‘special’ to say is reflected in burble anyone could summon up. Or in spin which betrays personal political persuasion. Q+A panelists, Robinson being one from time to time, strike me as very much like that. “Go fuck yourself” says it all really.

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