Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Who has the most influence - a Politician or a Journalist?

Someone said to me back in 2012 that I'd have to choose, either to be a politician or a journalist, this being one fence I couldn't sit on!

Along those lines,  I was struck today by how much longer a "half-life" a journalist has than a politician  - thinking of people like Polly Toynbee, Julie Burchill and Caitlin Moran that have been writing for decades - plus the careers of broadcasters like Nick Ross, Simon Mayo and Chris Evans span decades. Some media careers are only ended by death.... whereas comparatively few are (in the Commons at least) in politics.

It seems like a no-brainer that a politician would have more influence, but I find it interesting that some of the best-known broadcasters are well-liked and respected, I would surmise if they ever were to comment on politics (a lot of them carefully avoid it) their opinion would matter to a lot of people. I guess the difference is whether you think it's better to influence a lot of people a little bit, or a few people a lot.

But for the purposes of this blog, I'm more talking about political commentators, like John Rentoul / Paul Waugh or for a more "household name" - Quentin Letts - who recently caught my eye for praising a Lib Dem minister. When he did, I thought, "ooh, that's likely to bring us recognition in the eyes of the public". For all his faults, a number of people do listen to Letts.

I then went on to read Dan Hodges piece where he refuses to countenance standing for Parliament and thought more about why someone would choose journalism over politics - I suppose the freedom to say what you want, more or less, and not be hidebound by party policy, longevity and being paid to write, all very attractive qualities to me.

The key difference really has to be power at the end of the day. Opposition politicians have little power, but can serve on committees or authorities and influence important policy, which journalists don't get to do, or not directly anyway.

I suppose  I'd rather be a politician  but journalism seems attractive too. I guess this is why I can see a lot of similarity in the personalities attracted to both careers. And, I suppose, why they do get on a lot.

So what's that they say  "A politician complaining about the media is like a sailor complaining about the sea." 

Probably works both ways that, really.


  1. I get the impression that a lot of journalism is producing large quantities of low quality entertainment material, pandering to the basest prejudices of your readers.

    Can even big name journalists say more or less what they want? If Polly Toynbee or Melanie Phillips changed their minds in a big way, would their respective papers continue to employ them? See also Peter Sissons on the BBC - not that I agree with him, but it illustrates the point.

  2. Indeed. Some people do change their mind - Dan Hodges is one example, but continues on a theme (criticising Miliband) which obviously works for the Telegraph - tho I believe he also shows an amount of variation on that theme. (i.e. when he reckons Miliband gets something right, which he does sometimes.

    Laurie Penny has moderated her views somewhat I think, and does hit the button more often these days - not on general politics but more on feminism.

    But you make a fair point on the names you mention.