Opinion: Grid 'story' reveals media self-obsession

I was really looking forward to reading the serialisation of the new Simon Walters and Peter Oborne book, Alastair Campbell, in this week's Mail on Sunday. I confess that I wasn't disappointed by the juicy gossip, but surely the paper had better things to cover than the astonishing revelation that Labour uses a news 'grid' of upcoming events to plan its media coverage.

Walters is probably the best political hack on the Westminster beat and deserves his place as the front-runner to take over from The Sun political editor Trevor Kavanagh. And Oborne is undoubtedly the best 'right-wing' writer around, so I was expecting a little more from them - maybe next week, when the serialisation covers Campbell's role in Nick Brown's demise, will be better.

They did at least kill the myth that Campbell left Downing Street at a time of his choosing, but what about that grid story? Even more astonishing was that The Guardian followed it up the next day, confirming the fact that the media are totally self-obsessed. I suppose what excited them so much was that they actually had a copy of the grid for a particular week last August. The Guardian made the outrageous claim that Labour 'invented' the grid in 1998. I have never worked for The Guardian, but it would be absolutely incredible if the paper didn't have its own diary of forthcoming events. Every media outlet has a forward-planning desk of some sort, so what is so surprising about a political party having one?

Even when I was a humble press officer for a trade union, we had a media grid. I didn't want the general secretary to make a big speech on the day England had a World Cup game or when the trial of a serial killer was about to start.

The Guardian justified its huge coverage by claiming Number 10 had worked with The Sun to manage the news. The grid did show that The Sun was planning an asylum campaign that week, but so what. It's the spin doctors' job to find out what papers are up to and there is always someone who will tell them. Very sensibly, Campbell, pre-armed with this knowledge, arranged a hard-hitting interview for the paper with David Blunkett.

It is true that when Labour came into office, it was astonished that some departments didn't know what other departments were doing in terms of media announcements, and the grid helped to change that culture. This is sensible news management that not only helps the government of the day, but also helps the papers with political stories.

It's about time the media grew up and stopped printing silly stor-ies about Labour's media manipulation.

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