Opinion: Pundits have adopted a god-like status

Which media did you turn to when you heard about the seismic political power shift taking place in British politics? Or should I say what kind of media? It's likely that instead of straight news it was the more complex comment that you turned to first. The opinion media are now at a premium for anyone who wants to get a handle on what is really happening. Those who try and shape public opinion directly should prioritise this medium. Any public or political issue is debated and explained best via the commentators. The Guardian has strong home-news pages, but anyone interested in the Blair succession saga could turn straight to Jackie Ashley's and Martin Kettle's assessment of the situation on the paper's comment pages and feel very up to speed.

The relevance - and rise - of opinion media isn't surprising. There is a depth and an insight often lacking in news reports. Opinion media also provide an intimacy, almost a locality, that the public want. The PR swing towards opinion-former PR is due in no small part to the dominance of opinion and comment in the media above news.

Spin tends to come with comment from the other way - from journalists venting their own spleen rather than a spin doctor inviting them to vent on their behalf. There is no pretence about balance with the commentators: if they agree with someone or something, they will say so heartily. And if they do not, they will verbally shred without any hesitation. This makes them attractive to PR, given their influence, but also treated with respect: throw something ill-thought-out their way and they are likely to ignore it or, worse, do damage as a result.

The brand equity of a newspaper is largely defined by its star writers. The readers of The Independent mourned the loss of David Aaronovitch to The Guardian and The Observer; the Daily Mail is defined as much by Lynda Lee Potter and Melanie Phillips as anything else.

Media relations used to be about notching up column inches for its own sake - PR virility. But now it's quality, not quantity, that counts. Anyone promoting a policy or a person should look first to the pundits to publicise them, if they can. To be praised - or to avoid being damned with faint praise - by the commentators is increasingly what good media relations is all about.

Julia Hobsbawm is professor of public relations at the London College of Communication. Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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