Bringing politics to life

Every Friday for the last few months, I’ve been sending a little gift to some of my colleagues.

It’s not one that in an ideal world they really want.

And my weekly email listing suggested questions for the NCTJ’s public affairs diploma exam is never going to trouble the Amazon charts.

But I hope my efforts will help them pass the exam next week, and help focus their minds as they wade through a textbook which is more than 650 pages long.

Equally importantly, I hope the process also reinforces the vital importance of our coverage of local and national government.

One harsh reality is that much of that coverage doesn’t necessarily fly online at a time when digital targets can determine copytasting and resource allocation.

And another is that it is sometimes only at a late stage in the development of a story, when a national paper steps in, that the sleepwalking public begin to wake up to what’s being done in their name on their doorstep.

There’s a hint of that today, as Guardian columnist George Monbiot highlights the irony of Prime Minister David Cameron moaning to Tory-run Oxfordshire County Council about the cuts it’s making in his Witney constituency.

And it was only after national coverage of Bath and North East Somerset Council’s plans to put a new park and ride site on a much-loved area of fields to the east of the city that the ruling Conservatives have had a rethink – despite wall to wall stories from my friends at The Bath Chronicle.

When that same council was battling to keep control of a massive overspend and delay affecting the Bath Spa Project, I was the Chronicle’s news editor.

I would regularly be infuriated by people who asked us why we weren’t covering the scandal that they read about in the national press.

We were. It’s just that we had covered the twists and turns in so much detail that we’d never really stepped back to do a bit more analysis. And we never had the luxury of a national paper’s ability to look down from above as an outsider.

It’s never been more important, as I’ve said previously, to explain the world to our readers, to bring things together and make sense of it all.

I haven’t got the time or the inclination to read every story about new housing developments in my area, and they end up all blurring into a haze of nimbyism and acronyms.

But I’d definitely invest some precious minutes in devouring a well-written spread, or digital package, which brought all these schemes together in one place, with plenty of views, maps and analysis.

It’s why that public affairs training is so important.

We can dismiss politics as an impenetrable black hole that no one cares about. In some ways, that’s exactly what many politicians would love us to do.

Or we can make it our business to bring it to life, to shine some lights in dark areas, and help provide the information and insight that we all need for our communities to mean something.

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