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Blog: Premeditating a news agenda must NEVER happen

Premeditating a news agenda must NEVER happen

March 18, 2015

Politicians should stick to politics and leave communication to the professionals. I won’t go into the qualities that makes a good politician – it’s not my area of expertise.

So I find it particularly galling when elected representatives take it upon themselves to lay down the law over the way we should communicate.

Because politicians, it seems, would have you believe they always know best when it comes to communication.

The latest councillor to jump on the bandwagon is Martin Rooney, Labour leader of West Dunbartonshire Council, in Scotland, according to a report on Hold The Front Page.

Writing on the Facebook page of the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter, Cllr Rooney suggested the paper’s falling circulation was partly down to the publication’s negative reporting – “highlighting crimes such as garden shed thefts and running down the local councils”.

He continued: “I don’t know the specific reasons but I would guess its [sic] down to instant news on the internet and social media such as Facebook.

“But I also think its [sic] a lot to do with the constant negative stories that locals run.

“I genuinely think they have lost their way and more positive stories is the way to reverse the trend. Circulation must go up when the newspapers do positive news stories such as pupils starting schools etc.”

Let’s stop right there.

Understandably Cllr Rooney would like to see less negative stories in the pages of the local paper about the organisation he represents. But to suggest media organisations need to approach news with a pre-determined mindset is plain wrong.

This is the same for every avenue of communication, all anxious to reach an audience with maximum impact.

Whether you write for a newspaper or deliver internal communication for an SME, the key principles remain the same.

Online analytics guide us with more detail than ever before. They show us what people are interested in, what stories they are searching for and the behaviour of our audience. It provides a deep understanding that should not be wasted.

Deciding in advance to focus on positive (or negative) content is does not sit comfortably. In my view it verges upon censorship and should be fought at every opportunity.

Of course, our approach to content will vary greatly depending on your position within the comms industry.

For instance a story about job losses will be handled very differently by a local newspaper hack and the company’s IC chief.

But the story still needs to be addressed regardless of the manner you decide to present it.

Internal and external audiences expect straight forward content – not smoke and mirrors or the over-promotion of less-important material just so a quota of “positive” news can be met.

Communications professionals need to be seen as reliable and trusted sources of information – and pre-determining news agendas is a far cry from that.