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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Differences between UK and US Campaigns - Part IV: Newspapers

The media are of course a key factor in any political campaign. After all, unless we actually bother to go to a rally or something then how else do we hear about the campaign? The different operating conditions however naturally means a different environment in which the campaigns work. I think the crux of the difference between the UK and the US here is in the realm of newspapers.

My impression of the US is that there is no national newspaper market, USA Today notwithstanding. Every major population area has its own newspaper market, the most successful of these have some national following (perhaps more now because of the internet), but which remain really local, and well provincial papers. This is even true for that grand old lady the N Y Times. Moreover, for the most part the US print media, especially the larger papers, tends to have a left-leaning viewpoint. Finally there seems to be a great deal of similiarity in format between the papers. That's a very broad-brush picture of course.

In the UK the market looks completely different. Instead of having dozens of essentially regional papers talking about national issues we have about a dozen truly national papers. These can be divided into two groups: the tabloids and the broadsheets. The tabloids primarily exist on celebrity gossip and sports, with national and international news here and there for flavouring. The broadsheets are the more serious papers, though imo there has been a general decline since I started reading them about ten years ago.

Another difference is that all the papers here are intensely, and openly, partisan. Although slightly dated, perhaps the best summing up of the British press was made in the comedy series "Yes Minister" - I took this script from here

Humphrey: [...] The only way to understand the press is to remember that they pander to their readers' prejudices.
Hacker: Don't tell me about the press; I know exactly who reads the papers.
The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country.
The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country.
The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country.
The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country.
The Financial Times is read by people who own the country.
The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country.
And the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think that it is.
Humphrey: Oh, and Prime Minister, what about people who read the Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country as long as she's got big tits.

That said, the Sun, by backing John Major late in the day in the 1992 election, can made a reasonable claim to have swung that election to the Tories. It easily has the largest circulation figures in the UK.

The comparison by not be totally apt, but I think the difference here is not dis-similar to the difference between the blogosphere and the mainstream american media in general. To be honest I'm not sure how much actual differences these impose on the campaigns. My sense is that in the US the opposing campaigns mostly attack each other, with the press to some extent playing second fiddle. In the UK it seems to the press leading the attack.

NB: In Scotland there is a regional paper, the Scotsman, that I think is more "American" than the other British dailies.

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