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Hold the front page: politician disses rival

Is one politician saying negative things about another politician headline news? It shouldn’t be.

By James Evelegh

Hold the front page: politician disses rival

Hardly a surprising turn of events but increasingly the stuff of newspaper headlines. In a democracy, especially at election time, politicians tend to say nasty things about their rivals. That’s what they do.

Do those nasty things warrant headline treatment? After all, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, they would say those things, wouldn’t they?

Surely the only time a politician should be directly quoted in a headline is when they say something surprising or unexpected.

When you read this, there will probably be a couple of weeks still to go to polling day and we’re likely to be in peak “Rishi says” season.

In her 16th May Notebook, Liz Gerard complains that sections of the press “have returned to ‘taking dictation’ journalism. Rishi says (or is going to say) this or that, so we’ll put his words in big letters and then consign any caveats to the small type – or ignore them altogether.”

Some examples of this approach to journalism include the following recent front-page headlines: ‘PM: Britain safer under Tories for dangerous years ahead’, ‘Be warned! Taxes will go up under Labour, says Hunt’, ‘I’m on your side! PM pledges bumper pension rise’.

Such wording is not that dissimilar to the party election literature posted through our letterboxes.

The irony is that the press gets irritated when political parties, usually the LibDems, lay out their campaign literature to look like a local newspaper. The LibDems could retort, if they were so minded, that it works both ways. Some newspaper reporting could easily be mistaken for Conservative campaign literature.

Yes, I know that there are Labour backing newspapers, but they are outnumbered and tend to be less remorseless and single-minded than their pro-Conservative peers.

The job of the media is not to simply repeat verbatim what a politician has said, especially not in the headline which is often what the reader recalls, but to analyse what the politician has said, question them about it and then produce a headline and story based on their insight and analysis.

Such an approach would provide a better service to readers, increasing their understanding of complex issues, and would also keep politicians on their toes.

No politician should ever have the right to expect their self-serving pronouncements to be the next day’s headline. That’s lazy politics and lazy journalism.

Finally, I must draw your attention to the sponsored AI Special in the May / June issue of InPublishing. We ask leading publishers and suppliers how AI is being used at the moment, how it might be used in the future and ask each for three top tips. There’s lots of good advice and insight.

One recurring theme is that everyone should be involved, not just the tech team. As Immediate Media’s Hannah Williams advises, “Involve everyone. In all roles and all departments. AI will change the way we all work whether we like it or not.”

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.