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My placement was a far more sedate experience than I had anticipated, although I did get the chance to meet Viscount Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail and General Trust and the Northcliffe group, of which the Herald was a partand Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry see previous post.
November 17, Alistair Darling in Plymouth A largely uneventful Monday began a largely uneventful week, although in the afternoon I did get the chance to shake hands and observe a face-to-face interview with the Trade Secretary, Alistair Darling.
He was in town to kick-start Plymouth Enterprise Week western morning news business reporter a joint initiative between local government and the technological, industrial and commercial sectors - designed to promote the city as a centre of innovation. His was a flying visit to the Tamar Science Park, where he was scheduled down to the minute to meet various managing directors, project leaders and executives of companies that had been successful in both producing exportable products and raising the profile of the local economy.
Liz Parks, the Business Reporter at the Evening Herald, invited me along to shadow her as she chased an interview. Opposite us was the official welcoming party, consisting of the Tamar's chairman, his head of marketing, two prominent local MPs and their people.
There was plenty of handshaking. It turned out he had an axe to grind, and was gearing up for a confrontational interview. Together they really did appear as gangsters, complete with all the cliches: A sharp eyed young PR coordinator shouted into his executive mobile phone, a beautiful, olive-skinned personal secretary with immaculate hair and shining jewelry stood silently to one side, ready to second guess her boss's every movement.
The two MPs began fawning, clamouring for attention, desperate to ensure that the New Labour machine in London personified by this silver-tonged, permatanned Scot did not forget about its provincial ambassadors.
Photographers scurried, hanging from railings and kneeling down, looking for angles and snapping. The minister acknowledged the reporters last of all.
He seemed to loosen up momentarily as he waved.
We were content to join the train and follow their lead. The scrum squeezed through the complex to pay the planned visits. These included an engineering form that was developing health monitors for babies and a technology research company that was pioneering techniques of 3D rendering on resin.
At each presentation, Darling demonstrated deep understanding and interest, engaging in conversation as the group around him scribbled notes, played with PDAs, changed lenses, relayed messages and so on.
Incredible, the political animal. Forever on the move, chained to The Party, micro-managed down to the smallest behaviour, demanding, always engaging but never engaged.
When a difficult question or criticism arose, it was deflected almost subliminally. Craftsmanship, maybe, but it's easy to imagine that professional politicians are born, not made.
At interview, Darling was amiable, but vacant.
As he rattled through a clutch of prepared answers, I was surprised that Liz didn't push him further, perhaps question his opinion on the proposals for Devonport the ancient harbour was under threat of downgrading, threatening the oldest industry in Plymouth.
Instead, questions were limited to - "Do you like Plymouth? She told me afterwards that, as time was limited, she couldn't risk deflections. A printable quote was, after all, the goal. I discovered later that the reporter from the Western Morning News, who challenged him over job cuts in Cornwall food production, was discourteously rebuffed and came away with nothing.
Journalism at this level is thus something of a balancing act; between editorial freedom and freedom of access. No new lesson there, but when you see it all played out in front of you, the politician's effectiveness in turning the press into a tool for his own publicity is still surprising.
Plenty of lessons still to learn. November 09, The Eco Warrior and the Week-Long Hangover Continuing the 'activism' theme, my submissions to Venue included an interview with Mark Plummer, a local environmentalist who first became known for his protests surrounding the expansion of Bristol Airport in I interviewed him as he was busy preparing to lead a regional delegation of the Stop Climate Chaos campaign group to London for the major demonstration on November 4.Connecting People through News.
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