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Spin doctors and political news management: A rational-choice ‘exchange’ analysis

Abstract

The rise of ‘spin doctors’ and news management is one of the most important changes in British party politics. However, this development has been under-theorised. This article fills this gap in the literature by providing a rational-choice model of news management, in which parties supply information on things such as policies and intra-party gossip to journalists in return for favourable coverage. Basing itself on recent research on the media, the article develops a cost–benefit model of news-story production in which the constant onset of deadlines leaves journalists considerably dependent on official information sources, such as spin doctors. Drawing mainly from the experience of New Labour in Britain, the article discusses various techniques for maximising positive coverage and counteracting negative coverage, and shows how they relate to the theoretical framework. It concludes that news management is inevitable when parties communicate through news media that make their own choices over which stories to run.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Data are from the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, available at <http://www.barb.co.uk/> (accessed 8 March 2012).

  2. 2.

    British Politics has also published numerous articles on the media and politics. See, for example, Deacon et al, 2006; Gaber, 2006, 2009; Norris, 2006; Temple, 2006; Wring and Deacon, 2010; van Heerde-Hudson, 2011.

  3. 3.

    Insider accounts of the New Labour years can be found in Campbell, 2007; Blair, 2010; Mandelson, 2010. See also Seldon et al, 2008; Rawnsley, 2010.

  4. 4.

    Activist campaigning has enjoyed a renaissance in recent British election campaigns as part of an integrated approach that combines the ‘air war’ (television) with the ‘ground war’ (activists) in constituencies. See Seyd and Whiteley, 1992; Denver et al, 2004.

  5. 5.

    ‘Soft news doesn’t bring people to politics by enlightening them; it does so by connecting their world to the human interest and drama in politics’ (Popkin, 2006, p. 333).

  6. 6.

    In reality, certain types of consumers are more valued than others because of their spending power and greater appeal to advertisers.

  7. 7.

    See Jones (2000) for examples of New Labour's stage-management of announcements.

  8. 8.

    The same fate befell David Cameron's spin doctor, Andy Coulson, who was forced to resign because of the increasing revelations about phone-hacking by News of the World journalists during Coulson's time as the paper's editor.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Nick Allen (Royal Holloway, University of London) and three anonymous British Politics referees for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article.

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Quinn, T. Spin doctors and political news management: A rational-choice ‘exchange’ analysis. Br Polit 7, 272–300 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1057/bp.2012.6

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Keywords

  • political communication
  • news management
  • political parties
  • spin doctors
  • New Labour
  • rational-choice theory