A piece about how the media performed during the British general election, first published on First Drafts, May 2010
The minor questions have now been answered: who gets to be Prime Minister, who runs what department, what do you call it when Cameron and Clegg combine into an unprecedented political entity? (Best answer so far: ConDemNation). In media-land, though, more-pressing post-mortems await. What went right for the fourth estate during its own tanning session in the glare of public attention, and what didn’t? Without singling out any particular individuals or institutions, here are a few reflections on how various media platforms fared during the glorious course of the election. It was…
- A big loss for daily print papers, which have never looked more like so much deluxe toilet paper.
- A medium-sized loss for Twitter, or at least a reality check: lots of talk, hilarious memes going viral, but little influence on anything that mattered, and far fewer people taking part than most users would like to think. Ditto the echo chamber of social networks.
- A victory for television set-pieces (that is, the leaders’ debates), which proved that a few hours of important faces live on screen is a big enough deal largely to sate the electorate’s desire for politics.
- A dismal time for 24-hour news, which may as well have equipped its correspondents with t-shirts reading “nothing to say, all day in which to say it.”
- A good time for political bloggers, who tend to know their audiences and their own limitations, and get on with saying what they think without worrying too much.
- A good time for the YouTube/camera phone contingent, which had the important/interesting/funny stuff when you wanted it, and otherwise was handily invisible.
- A decent time for many magazines, which couldn’t play the instant commentary game, so had to try extra-hard and offer longer views.
- A surprisingly poor time for online newspapers, who ended up looking like irritating and harder-to-read versions of blogs, with dreary “live” streams trailing thousands of anxiously self-important words across their landing pages.
- A fine time for radio, which at its best still does live views and debate better than anyone.
- A bad time for those who like to emphasize the potency of the media and of spin-doctors: most voters staunchly failed to be whipped into a frenzy of enthusiasm for anyone (five minutes of finding out about this guy called Nick Clegg notwithstanding), and especially not the party who did least worst.
- A stirring time for volcanoes, oil and Greeks, who managed to be more interesting/alarming than British politics for days at a time.
Anything to add?