On Friday, we will all have a rough idea at last of what the new political story is. Even if the incumbent Labour manage to clinch another majority, the tone of the national debate will be vastly different. The results will come after about a month of ubiquitous media coverage that’s reported on everything from gaffes to literal car crash television.
Regardless of who wins and loses, one important player has been under incredible pressure. The traditional media has never had it so hard; readership is collapsing and only the trashy Daily Star has found a way to make it stop. The election then has been their greatest hope of stemming the losses, even if just for a brief moment.
This, of course, has led to an interesting intensity in their coverage. Every day has become a game changer for them, each headline a way to guarantee their futures.
It has never been particularly difficult to criticise the Murdochs on their involvement in politics, but this time Rupert and spawn James may well have overdone it completely. Alongside Rebekah Brooks, the ambitious new Chief Executive of News International, they have not been keeping a low profile. Lines were drawn early on when disgraced former News of the World editor Andy Coulson became the Conservative Party PR chief in 2007 just before the hastily aborted election, and as the phone hacking scandal grew in scale and Coulson’s likely involvement became clear, Cameron chose to not only stick with him but defend him personally. The News International contribution to the election has been ethically dubious; Murdoch has had no contact with the Lib Dems, and their resultant panic after the poll surge led to embarrassment after embarrassment for their image as smooth operators. When The Independent stated that “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election, you will”, a team of Murdoch’s finest turned up at the offices of The Independent, screaming obscenities at their editor. Shortly after that, The Sun was accused of suppressing a poll commissioned portraying public approval of a Lib Dem government.
Despite the sweating and panicking of Rupert Murdoch after the television debates that he rallied so hard in favour of, the old media did have something to celebrate; numerous commentators labelled social media ineffective as a campaigning tool and unimportant for breaking the big stories of the campaign. The Telegraph’s Iain Dale labelled Twitter useless and ridiculed the earlier suggestions that it would be the decider of the next government. What he, and many others, did not account for was the narrative that opened up just before the election was called that hinted anyone in the know expected social media to be unconcerning at best. By crowing about a hollow victory, the old media establishment has made itself look even closer to the grave. While they’ve dominated the story of the campaign, its all been for nothing; the sales figures are still utterly miserable for every single publication, the BBC faces pressure to fundamentally change and, while certainly biased, Lib Dem activists report that the campaign against them by papers has actually encouraged further support.
The election was a critical period for rescuing the old media, and they failed to make it count.