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Tories take the wrap

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With the snap election Theresa May has called to take place on 8th June we’re seeing the inevitable jockeying for attention as each political party attempts to grab the hearts and minds of the voting public.

The Conservatives were first off the blocks, running advertising wraps around a wide range of local newspapers across the country during w/c 1st May – specifically targeting marginal seats. These ads ran less than two weeks after the PM announced the election. It seems unfair but who can blame them for using their advantage of being ‘in the know’ to steal ahead of the competition.

I wonder whether either the party or the newspapers involved were anticipating the backlash unleashed by this piece of marketing. It’s not against regulation for parties to advertise in the run up to an election but the boldness of running full wraps on local newspapers made the campaign unavoidable if you happen to live in the targeted areas.

Firstly, criticism came from readers angrily claiming that the wraps cheapen their local newspapers, making them seem to be taking sides in the election. The public in some areas have signed petitions demanding a formal apology from their local newspapers.

Now, the NUJ have taken up the baton, raising concern at the blurring of lines between advertising and editorial. They agree that ‘hijacking’ the newspaper masthead at the top of the front page of the wrap and using editorial style content makes it look as if the newspaper is endorsing the Conservative party, thus challenging the reputation for impartiality that many local newspapers take pride in.

it looks much more like a piece of political polemic than newspaper editorial

Local newspaper publishers have denied being partisan, welcoming similar advertising from any other political party. I’m sure they would but are other parties’ pockets as deep?

In an age when we’ve seen declining circulations and falling ad revenues in the local newspaper industry, this media furore certainly demonstrates the enduring emotive power and effectiveness of Britain’s oldest media channel. Local Media Works research cites local newspapers as the most trusted source of local news. This could explain the anger from readers who feel they can no longer rely on impartial information from their local newspaper.

Having seen a copy of the Tory party wrap, I think it looks much more like a piece of political polemic than newspaper editorial. Local newspapers run wraps with advertising content right under their masthead on a regular basis and no one thinks they are implicitly endorsing that advertiser.

I wonder how much the NUJ criticism is a jeer from journalists annoyed at their lack of access to Theresa May. Her tight control over her press conferences means she will only answer pre-approved questions from specific journalists. If they can’t knock her during her carefully choreographed spoken opportunities, they’ll take a shot at her advertising.

Is it just a storm in a teacup? Will this foot stamping do anything to derail Theresa May’s inexorable journey to consolidated power?

Vanessa Lenton, Head of Regional Media

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