“We were all chasing this phantom story” – Miranda Green on #GE2015 at the News Impact Summit

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Today I’ve been at the News Impact Summit London, and the first panel session was about coverage of the recent UK General Election, a subject rather dear to my heart.

“I’d never seen so many shocked people across the country” said Charlie Beckett about what happened when the exit poll dropped at 10pm on May 7th, and so it was definitely worth re-visiting how the media had covered the campaign. The panel featured Miranda Green, Buzzfeed’s Tom Phillips, ITV’s Jason Mills and the BBC’s Steve Herrmann. Miranda is Contributing editor to Newsweek Europe, and here are my notes from her talk…

“We were all chasing this phantom story about hung parliaments and we might as well have just stayed in bed” – Miranda Green

Miranda started by pointing out that the last time she had been chatting at the LSE about the election was at a point where the debate about having the TV debates was at its height. She said that one of the heartening things about the campaign was that the debates did go ahead, and were successful and useful to the public.

Although, she noted, viewing figures weren’t as high as in 2010, she felt “they crystalised people’s views about the fundamentals”. There was “more of a thirst” from the audience for the media to deal with the fundamentals, and to eliminate some of the “noise” that we were filling the airwaves with.

Miranda said that for many people May 8th really was “the day after” – a disaster movie for commentators and pundits.

She said “I have found the evolution of digital political journalism fascinating as a user”, and cited New Statesman’s May 2015 site as the kind of example of digital coverage being innovative and well designed. Or, as she put it, like everybody who was relying on the polls: “They got it wrong beautifully”

She also picked out the Coffee House blog from the Spectator as really hitting their peak – but she said these sites weren’t “broadcasting”. “It was”, she observed, “the narrow-casting of experts speaking to experts in beautifully nuanced analysis of things which may not have be the main issues.”

Miranda said that she had written some stuff for the Guardian about the Lib Dems, and “It’s still the case that the prestige thing is getting your content in the paper.” The feedback from getting a piece in the paper was of a different quantity and quality. Is this news? Did she get paid to say that? FIRST!

She gave a shout out to Chris Deerin, who she described as “a beautiful, beautiful writer”, who was tweeting out his Scottish Mail pieces which “otherwise I would never have found in my entire life.” I must concur with that. Chris and I don’t agree on a whole lot politically, but his take on the Scottish election campaign was essential reading.

And it was important that we were getting it in the rest of the UK. As Miranda said, devolution has also affected the way the media reports on issues in Scotland, and she felt that “Nobody could really hold Nicola Sturgeon to account because we don’t cover what the Scottish Government is doing down here.” Digital solved a problem there.

Howeverm she also mused that maybe the election was won by a very old-fashioned technique – the photo-op. “George Osborne in a hi-vis jacket” was, she said, a brilliant example of how a politician can very simply get across a message.