“What we know is that David Cameron’s car turned up here an hour ago and he’s still inside. We also know that some pizza boxes have been delivered. What we don’t know is what is being discussed inside or who is exactly in there with Mr Cameron.”

The greatest political upheaval in living memory (well, for most of us) and unfortunately those words spoken by a BBC journalist tend to sum up the level of media reporting.

We shouldn’t have been surprised, after all the 2010 General Election campaign itself was not exactly littered with impressive and insightful coverage.

As one Guardian journalist has neatly summarised, it’s all gone a bit Anchorman.

It would be laughable, if it wasn’t so serious. Maybe that is why Ofcom has so far received over 1,200 complaints (and rising) about Sky News and in particular its two headline stars Adam Boulton and Kay Burley.

Alistair Campbell once said he knew it was time to stand down as chief spin doctor in Tony Blair’s government when he became the main story, not his boss. Maybe it is a lesson some of our broadcaste media – and broadcasters – need to learn too?

(Drawing by RachelCreative)

But should we expect anything more from those inside the bubble that most of the mainstream media and our political system seem to inhabit.

If nothing else this election campaign has proved exactly how out of touch with reality those in the bubble are. They are very good at talking, usually about nothing, but are hopeless at listening.

Successful communication is not about shouting the loudest, it is often as simple as listening carefully.

I have no doubt that is why I have felt like an invisible voter this time around. This is the first election since I got to voting age that I haven’t been working on a newspaper, so standing outside the bubble was quite an eye-opener.

We were told beforehand that this election would be the first where the internet played a significant part. Yet the BBC rather ignorantly dismissed this after May 6, claiming for example that only a small minority of Twitter users were actively engaged politically during the election campaign.

That claim missed a very simple and obvious point. Yes there were around 200,000 actively political tweeters during the campaign, but most of these inhabited the media-political bubble. There was plenty of Twitter-traffic from voters during the campaign, but it tended to be mixed up with the normal tweets and conversations that take place every day – the majority of us have a life outside politics and that wasn’t suspended during the campaign.

I felt more politically engaged because of the conversations I took part in on Twitter and Facebook, or watched from the sidelines, than I have in 20 years of covering them as a journalist.

And still, the media and politicians (I’ll include many party activists in this too), preferred to talk at us than with us. They adopted a familiar “we know best” approach, talking endlessly and never listening.

It is unsurprising the media has discounted the influence of social networking, they weren’t looking in the right places. Why concentrate on a few hundred of their friends when there millions more trying to be heard?

The same is true for all the political parties. The whole campaign, both locally and nationally, felt flat and uninspiring.

They resorted to the same old tactics and it looked both outdated and out of touch with reality. Far too often we were effectively told: “Vote for us, we’re not quite as bad as the others.”

Is that positive campaigning? Is that intended to inspire me and make me feel engaged?

The problem is that the media report this largely without question. So when we do have an unusual event like a hung parliament and negotiations on a coalition government, they are left floundering.

They trot out the same familiar faces, who say nothing.

“What we don’t know is…” are the five words that characterise our media and political machinery these days.

And surely it must be obvious there is a problem when it is the broadcasters who get heckled, not the politicians?

It is good to talk.

It is even better to listen.

So, sssshhhhhhh….you might learn a few things.

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2 responses »

  1. Nick D. says:

    If we do indeed have a “New Politics” perhaps we could have a “New Journalism” to go with it?
    Or is that too glib?

    • Paul Groves says:

      Nick: You are absolutely right. I would add that this new journalism should have started a decade or more ago with the rise of new technology – but that is another argument for another blog post one day.

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