Pollies and papers set for bad break-up

|| June 29, 2016

Politics is a mess of uncertainty with the Brexit shock and the rise of Trump.

But, there is something you can bank on – this is the last Federal election during which our politicians will tangle with the print editions of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Fairfax’s Sydney and Melbourne paper warriors are almost cooked and unlikely to see out a full term of a new government. The websites will carry on but the print editions are in palliative care.

And websites, in their moving, intangible forms, don't carry the clout of the newspaper.

What does that mean for the political parties that still rely on newspapers while agonising over every little thing they do in election campaigns?

They will still have the News Corp print titles, which have more financial clout and desire to combat these cyclonic winds crunching old media. While Rupert Murdoch remains at the helm, News Corp will continue to support journalism in print form.

That's good news because more journalists make for better reporting and for better governments.

But political parties will have to think harder about finding new ways to reach the masses – they’re still reliant on that ancient path of news drops to newspapers.

They have social media teams but there’s no evidence that political parties are using social media with any greater success than the myriad other organisations. 

Politicians and papers are heading for a bad break-up.

Politicians spend too much time worrying about how papers behave in campaigns.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard asked me twice in the week prior to the 2010 election about which party The Courier-Mail would endorse in its editorial. On the Monday of that week, I told the Prime Minister that we would not make that decision until after a lengthy editorial meeting on Thursday.

On Thursday night, the Prime Minister called again.

I told her the paper would endorse Tony Abbott’s Coalition team. She took it well. Three years earlier, The Courier-Mail had endorsed Kevin Rudd’s Labor opposition.

Newspapers have influence but it's nothing to match the power of the reader. Political strategists wrongly think that newspapers hold great sway over their readers when the opposite is true.

The readers don’t want to be lectured and they certainly don’t want a newspaper bossing them around.

They want information presented clearly and in depth so they can make their own decisions.

The Remain camp in England’s Brexit battle can tell you about that.

- Michael Crutcher