Why doesn't Welsh politics sell newspapers?
- 23 May 2013
- From the section Wales politics
When politicians at Westminster talk about a "deficit" they are usually referring to the gap between what Britain spends and what it earns.
But politicians in Cardiff Bay were today focused on a different kind of deficit - the gap between political activity in the National Assembly for Wales and media coverage of it - or the lack of it.
There are frequent complaints that media coverage is too English-centric and the assembly's presiding officer organised today's conference to look at the issue and come up with solutions.
You won't be surprised to learn that this morning's panellists, especially those who have to sell newspapers for a living, weren't terribly sympathetic to the idea that more assembly coverage would deliver the circulation boost their papers desperately need. AMs are simply not box office in Fleet Street.
Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror, acknowledged that newspapers needed to be more accurate in explaining who runs public services in parts of the UK.
But he had watched assembly proceedings on TV - and isn't a fan. "It's as boring as hell," he complained. "I'm amazed anybody watches it."
Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas responded via twitter: "We're not supposed to be Brucie, we're to scrutinise government and legislation properly."
Even BBC Parliament Controller Peter Knowles acknowledged that some debates can be "grim to watch" with AMs "typing and fiddling with their computers".
His solution was that AMs should - for the duration of the weekly questions to the first minister - stop typing and pay attention to the exchanges.
Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding said he couldn't possibly comment on the standard of debates but promised to pass on Mr Knowles' comments to colleagues.
Mr Melding said that when computers first arrived in the assembly chamber it was "ground-breaking - we had people coming from all over the world to look at that".
Peter Riddell, late of The Times, now of the Institute for Government, suggested politicians should simplify their language and explain things clearly. (Politicians who routinely refer to "Silk" or "Barnett" without explanation please take note).
None has a full-time reporting presence at the assembly, but all argued they covered the impact of Welsh government decisions on their readers.
Jonathan Roberts explained what his readers want: "They don't buy process. They don't necessarily buy policy. They buy people.
"It is the people that matter: the process and the policy are only the supporting cast."
The editors appeared optimistic that newspapers had a future in print, at least short-term - reassuringly optimistic for an old print romantic like myself.
Kevin Ward said his personal view was that within five years most newspapers would be charging for content online.
Would you cough up (say) 50p to read what your local politician is up to?
As today was what David Melding described as "a working day" committee business kept other AMs away from the conference.
The deputy presiding officer assured the audience that the conference would soon be available to view on Senedd TV, one of the few channels you won't see Brucie on.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - as other media moguls might say.
Politicians in Cardiff Bay and Westminster are now embarking on their Whitsun recess. They'll be back - and so will I - in early June.