I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this but politicians seem to have adopted a new strategy when it comes to dealing with journos during the election campaign.
In the old days, the top politicians seemed remote and inaccessible, only meeting top editors at their residences. If interviews were given, it was these top editors who got them because politicians seemed too high and mighty to talk to ordinary journos.
That’s all changed. These days, the editors hardly get a look in. It’s the special correspondents and the second string anchors who have the most access.
Consider Rahul Gandhi’s media relations. Unlike other major leaders, he does not keep the beat journalists at bay and schmooze only with editors. Virtually anybody who joins him on the campaign trail gets to talk to him and he gives press conferences in many cities.
When he did agree to sit down for a largely on-the-record chat with journos in Delhi on Friday, he invited the special correspondents and the junior anchors rather than the stars and the editors.
So it has been with Manmohan Singh. Till halfway through the campaign the Prime Minister spoke to nobody. Then, perhaps because he was shamed by the criticism that he only gave interviews to white people (the foreign press has always had easy access to him), he began to talk to the TV channels.
But once again, he avoided the Rajdeeps and the Barkhas, choosing instead to speak to the likes of Maya Mirchandani and Suhasini Haider who are excellent journos but are hardly editors. The biggest name he spoke to was Times Now’s Navika Kumar who is a formidable and well-respected journo but
is not Arnab Goswami.
It’s been like this throughout the campaign. Gone are the days when the big interviews went to Prannoy, Shekhar, Rajdeep or Prabhu. These days, it is the younger, more energetic reporters who get to speak to the top leaders.
The one exception perhaps has been Barkha Dutt who got the first full-length Priyanka interview plus other significant interviews (Nitish Kumar, P Chidambaram etc.) and is NDTV’s Group Managing Editor. But during this campaign she has maintained her identity as a correspondent, flying to constituencies to do her interviews.
Why have politicians set their sights lower? Several reasons.
One: Editors have lost their cachet. They don’t seem like such a big deal any longer.
Two: Editors require a lot of pampering and give you very little in return.
Special correspondents and bureau chiefs are easier to deal with and influence news coverage on a day-to-day basis more than editors.
Three: Editors can be difficult. They regard themselves as the equal of the politicians and ask tough questions. Special correspondents are often so grateful for the access or so awed by the occasion that politicians have an easier time of it.
Four: Editors want interviews conducted on their own terms and their own turf. Correspondents will come wherever politicians want and will set no pre-conditions.
Five: The guys who fix the interviews (and politicians rarely fix interviews themselves but rely on minions) know that Editors will never be grateful to them and will thank the politicians rather than the minions for the opportunity. But correspondents will thank them and continue to rely on them for access to politicians. This is why all media advisers prefer correspondents to editors.
If this trend here to stay? It is too early to say but my guess is that this is the shape of things to come.