Last week’s magazine piece was about Jack Layton and the NDP’s altogether valiant attempt at being taken seriously. Here’s the gist.
“In the first week of Jack Layton’s third federal campaign, the charter jet emblazoned with his name travelled 13,484 km, touching down in 11 cities — a pace and path befitting the pitch. Jack Layton wants to be prime minister. The party, emboldened by Layton’s personal popularity, has put him before all else. And in addition to saying so, loudly and insistently, Layton and the NDP seem determined to look the part.”
This, as later discussed, is as much about convincing the press gallery as it is about persuading the electorate. Problem is, at least in the early going, they weren’t having much luck—the party, by one count, generating about half as much media coverage as the Conservatives and Liberals respectively. Anecdotally, that doesn’t appear to have changed much since (though the pot-smokers and nudists in the party’s midst certainly helped).
Two points on this.
1. As frustrated as the New Democrats get about this, it also frustrates the daily reporters on the NDP plane, who find they don’t have much to do with their desks back in Toronto and Ottawa less-than-excited about whatever Layton’s doing that day. And that sets up a weird scenario in which both the campaign and the reporters following the campaign have the same basic goal each morning: getting coverage for the NDP. (Which is not to question the integrity of the reporters covering the campaign. On the contrary. At least in that first week, the group included some of the most level-headed members of the gallery. This reporter not included.)
2. The NDP is trying to find ways around this. An issue of La Semaine, the Quebec tabloid, was passed around the plane that first week on account of the fluffy feature inside on the love affair of Layton and Olivia Chow. Layton was the first party leader to accept an invitation to host a one-hour talk show simulcast on radio stations in Montreal, Toronto, London, St. Catharines and Kelowna. And he’s done an online chat with Globe readers. For that matter, the NDP might have the best website. And, for whatever it’s worth, Layton has the most Facebook friends.
But so far the NDP’s poll numbers haven’t swung more than a couple points above their traditional range. And while that might simply have to do with Jack Layton and the NDP’s inherent appeal, it might be worth wondering what that says about the influence of the so-called mainstream media—whether, for all the talk about this glorious system of tubes and the blogs and the new diversity of voices and how everyone with an Internet connection is a publisher now, the traditional sources still dictate the proceedings.