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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011

6 - Creating election news: journalists

Summary

Politicians use media to communicate to voters with the aim of persuading them. However, media outlets and media workers are not merely a conduit for these messages or a neutral arbiter of them; they are also actors in their own right with their own strategic purposes and messages to communicate. This is not the same as saying that political reporters are ‘players’ who have specific political agendas to pursue (although this is a claim that is sometimes made). Rather, this is a much broader point: that news workers are not separate from political events but are central to them. This chapter looks at the role that journalists, especially, play in election reporting.

While journalists are often portrayed as observers and recorders of politics, in reality they often cause news to happen rather than just report it. For example, by ringing sources and asking for quotes on possible events, they can set those events in motion. When they repeatedly draw attention to a leader's poor opinion polls, they help create an environment that is ripe for a leadership challenge. They also have a crucial role to play in who the parties select as leader, because a leadership aspirant's media skills are viewed as a key criterion of their electability. Election campaigns are really the ultimate manifestation of the centrality of the media.