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Biting the hand that feeds

There’s an election in seven weeks. You’re standing. Do you:

(a) Not annoy the press

(b) Try to keep the media on your side

or (c)…

Completely alienate journalists you could rely on for news stories and invaluable publicity?

Dear oh dear. Now, to be clear, as a candidate for the House of Keys or a private individual you can hold any sort of view or opinion you want. But do you really want to attack journalists? You’re queering your pitch for the term you serve – assuming you manage to stand successfully in the face of a now-hostile media.

If you’re standing for election, here’s the rule: think twice, say once.

Why so sad?

Let’s have a look at what’s raised. And before we start, let me declare here that I have no idea what Andrew Barton’s policies are. I’ve also worked with him in the past when he was a photographer at Isle of Man Newspapers: this post isn’t a personal attack. Rather, it’s intended as a quick guide to other candidates about “speaking your brains” online.

First, calling anything “drivel” discounts the views of others out of hand. Not an admirable quality in a prospective Keys representative. Some advice to other candidates – don’t do this. Really.

Listing 22 court stories and then asking “who’d want to live here after reading this newspaper” ignores the realities many people live with day to day. Dismissing those stories out of hand dismisses a significant section of the electorate. We mere mortals do have to live here, and this is really what goes on – whether you see it or it’s entirely outside your life experience.

Staying “on-message”

Do you really want anybody to think you’re above their concerns? Not if you’re hoping to be their spokesman in parliament.

There’s an obvious problem with the message “if we never spoke about crime, we’d have super levels of immigration”, whether that’s how he meant to sound or not. Whitewashing reality does not make it go away.

Here’s a top tip: don’t assume your world is the one everybody else lives in. It isn’t. Here, it’s court cases – they generally involve the most vulnerable people in our society. Even the police say the vast majority of their time is taken up by mental illness: convicted criminals are significantly more likely to suffer mental illness or disorders. Overwhelmingly, people charged with offences are also from the poorer strata of life.

If you’re standing for election you’re hopefully pledging to represent EVERYBODY. Including people who’ve been convicted of criminal offences in the past. Please try not to dismiss them!

The “news is what I say it is” fallacy

As for what he deems “a handful of newsworthy stories”, let me tell you court stories are ALWAYS (and I say “always” because I really mean “always”) the most-read in the local press. By a factor of about ten, usually – I speak from experience as somebody who analysed web stats for Isle of Man Newspapers and Manx Radio. News is what people think is news, not what a politician thinks should be news.

He criticises the Independent for having no election coverage. That’s because there are extra (and pretty strict) editorial guidelines which mean “would-be MHK thinks something” or “someone doesn’t like the government” can’t run. For me, that criticism alone shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the way newspapers and reporters work.

As a candidate, there are ways to get in the news during a campaign – it surprises me how little some of those standing know about this.

It’s also odd to see him criticise four pages of “filler” photos. I’ll let you in on a trade secret: there’s a lot more material to “fill” a newspaper than you could possibly print. No need for filler, and every reader research study I’ve ever seen (Trinity Mirror did a huge survey every six months) shows how important photographs are. They drive the way people read newspapers.

One extra story that needs part of one extra page means you need FOUR extra pages because you can’t put a single page into a paper. Printers don’t sell single-sided sheets. And newsprint is special paper you can print on at very high speeds – it’s expensive. So’s the special high-speed, high-accuracy ink you need to print with – let alone staff and transport costs. You don’t waste that cash on unnecessary “filler” material.

The most ironic thing here is that a pompous posting on social media criticises Isle of Man Newspapers for pomposity. It indicates someone who thinks he understands journalism: but obviously doesn’t.

All that about a reader’s letter.

And what do those points make? Not prizes!

Here’s the real rub: what’s a journalist going to say when you’ve made this sort of comment about them online and then ask for publicity?

They’ll give you fairly short shrift. They’re human beings doing a job – just like anyone else – and keeping a reporter friendly is important if you want sympathetic news coverage.

Let me tell you a story about a former minister who, uninvited, stood next to me outside a public meeting tutting and shaking his head as I interviewed attendees who were, shall we say, less than complimentary about him. He then demanded a right to reply (to a story that hadn’t even been written yet).

I obliged. I interviewed him about why he was so unpopular, derailing any point he tried to make in response to my interviewees. He couldn’t answer people’s points – how could he predict what would be in my finished piece? And because he’d interfered in my job I went out of my way to make his interview as awkward and hostile as possible.

Hopefully afterwards he asked himself whether it was worth it. He certainly never tried it again.

In an election, the media is your friend!

You can build a relationship with the media that pays dividends, instead of spouting inadvisable easily-demolished nonsense on social media and then hoping a reporter is still sympathetic enough to cover your campaign. Let me tell you, it’s unlikely.

And saying “I don’t care about the media” if you’re a politician is very silly indeed. You’re persuading people to vote for you: as a news editor once said to me “they’ll need you before you need them”.

What leaps out here is that this was all over something so minor. How will he react when he votes for something deeply unpopular and the press has him on the front page?

If you’re a candidate, what’s the lesson can you learn?

How about this: one populist post on Facebook may get you a few likes, but it won’t get the attention you absolutely need when polling day arrives. The most under-represented demographic on Facebook is the most over-represented demographic when it comes to voting: the elderly. They’re the people who buy newspapers and listen to the radio, and they’re the people who vote.

Bemoan the press publicly at your peril.

If you’re standing for the House of Keys in September and would like some professional media training and advice from someone who’s covered 25 years of local and national elections both in the Isle of Man and the UK, click here to find out more about what Chips Cheese Gravy Media can offer you!

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