13 Aug 2017

Jacindamania hits new heights

From Mediawatch, 9:08 am on 13 August 2017

While one political party leader was cast into the depths last week, the popularity of another one hit new heights. Mediawatch looks at the coverage of Labour’s new leader and asks two news bosses if it's gone over the top.

After opening his paper last weekend, the National Business Review's Chris Keall took to Twitter with tongue in cheek:

Herald editor in chief Shayne Currie hit back by pointing out she was also on pages 1, 8, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 22 of the weekly NBR published just the day before.

Jacinda Ardern herself summed up her own Saturday like this on Facebook:  

"League, quiz night, puppies, interviews and an awesome catch up with the volunteers who help us on the campaign trail every single day. Now, I think it might be time for a cup of tea and a lie down."

Perhaps the media need to give it a rest too. All those engagements had been observed, noted and described in detail by reporters following the new leader’s every move.  

John Hudson of TVNZ's Sunday even filmed her "behind the scenes" over three days for a profile that aired last weekend. 

Miriama Kamo introducing TVNZ's up close and personal profile of Labour's new leader by John Hudson.

Miriama Kamo introducing TVNZ's up close and personal profile of Labour's new leader by John Hudson. Photo: screenshot / TVNZ Sunday

There was plenty more where that came from. 

"My giddy aunt, some of the coverage has been way over the top," said the New Zealand Herald media writer John Drinnan last Friday.

"Why did some media people transform Ardern from the leader of a failing party...to some sort of Joan of Arc figure?" he asked.

Good question.

Newshub were not exactly underselling the results of its latest opinion poll this week.

Newshub were not exactly underselling the results of its latest opinion poll this week. Photo: screenshot / Newshub

It went up several notches last Wednesday when a Reid Research opinion poll of 1000 people - trumpeted in advance as "explosive" by Newshub - estimated a nine-point leap in support for Labour.

It also had Ardern neck-and-neck with Bill English as preferred PM. 

"The simple fact is this: the Ardern effect is real. It is really happening," political editor Patrick Gower told viewers breathlessly.  

Social media socialism?

Moments before Sunday's sunny profile of her had aired on TVNZ1, Jacinda Ardern was a guest on Radio Live's Sunday Social show talking about how politicians use social media. 

"When who they are and their foibles become more important than what they'll do, that's when I think it's problematic," she told host Vaughn Davis.

"We're in a place now where it feels like that's been prioritised more," she said. 

She has certainly prioritised social media herself. 

"We will be using every tool available. I want to reach everyone," she told reporters when unveiling the “Lets Do This” campaign slogan. 

Part of the plan is frequent Facebook Live sessions. Her joke on Facebook Live about getting Fat Freddy's Drop to play at Parliament was instantly news for stuff.co.nz and Newshub on Wednesday. Both stories - of course - mentioned the oft-repeated fact Jacinda Ardern has been an occasional DJ in the past. 

This week, Labour-supporting blog progressreport.co.nz said social media stats showed "Jacinda" and "Labour" were dominating the number of political interactions on Facebook. 

"Likes on social media alone won’t win the election for Labour, but if they can convert even a small amount of the action they’re getting online . . . they will be very well placed to snatch victory on September 23rd. Let’s do this!" wrote Labour campaigner Patrick Leyland

We can expect the media will certainly be on point as Jacinda does it.

Tit-for-tat transport policies were released last weekend in Auckland in front of crowds of National and Labour supporters. The plans were compared and contrasted by journalists and pundits afterwards.

But while Labour’s policy on water charging was widely reported on Wednesday - even though it was overshadowed by the Greens' dramas - National’s policy on water, which was announced by Nick Smith at the same EDS conference in Auckland, was mostly ignored.

Have the news media gone over the top?

Mediaworks chief news officer Hal Crawford

Mediaworks chief news officer Hal Crawford Photo: supplied

"I wouldn't say its been over the top or overblown at all," Mediaworks' chief news officer Hal Crawford told Mediawatch. 

His political editor Patrick Gower has been the most effusive about 'The Ardern Effect' but Hal Crawford says 'the effect' is not driven by him, but by opinion polls.  

"If he expresses enthusiasm, it's for a reason. There's no question about that," says Crawford. 

"Paddy (Gower) is a level-headed and astute observer." 

John Gillespie, TVNZ's head of news and current affairs.

John Gillespie, TVNZ's head of news and current affairs. Photo: supplied

"Momentum builds momentum," TVNZ's news chief John Gillespie told Mediawatch.

"We should be across it. She seems to be doing everything with a smile and good on her. This election is on and it should be a cracker," he said. 

Isn't it time for the intense focus on Ardern to stop? 

"I couldn't tell you when it will abate. It doesn't look like it will," John Gillespie said.