COLUMN: Politicians must work for attention

NDP leadership candidates might look in the mirror for reasons the media hasn’t been too interested.

Listening to CBC Radio on my drive home the other day, I heard Thomas Mulcair lamenting the lack of major media coverage thus far for the federal NDP leadership race, of which he is the supposed frontrunner.

At the time, I simply shook my head, wondering what else the party expected when it organized a six-month lead-up to the leadership convention. No one cares until it comes close to decision time, and even then it’s rare that even half of people pay attention.

But the NDP leadership candidates might also look in the mirror for reasons the media hasn’t been too interested in who will be Jack Layton’s successor.

At least from the community newspaper perspective, the candidates who’ve visited Nanaimo thus far haven’t exactly  done their homework in terms of ensuring their names and political priorities get to the people.

In fact, they’ve done none.

Several leadership hopefuls organized meet-and-greet sessions in the Harbour City without even alerting the local media.

A few did so as an afterthought a few hours prior to the appearance, or simply confirmed there was an event scheduled when we heard about it through the grapevine and started making calls.

No real explanation as to why media weren’t notified other than, ‘well, we’re really busy, you know.’

We’ve managed to cover most of these appearances and help inform the masses about the would-be leaders’ message, but they’ve certainly not helped their own cause.

The latest was Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, who apparently had an event planned for Nanaimo Thursday evening after an appearance in Port Alberni. I found out about it at around 2 p.m. Thursday, when I listened to a voicemail from her assistant left an hour earlier informing me Ashton was passing through town (the event apparently was cancelled earlier in the day, not that it mattered, since who would’ve known?) and was available for an interview.

If this is the kind of effort Canadians can expect from the next leader of the official orange Opposition, we can expect Tory blue to continue dominating Ottawa.

Perhaps the party’s potential leaders simply don’t recognize the PR power of community newspapers, which, taken individually, don’t reach near as far as the major metro dailies, but taken collectively reach far more voters.

Sure, it takes more work to contact each of the local papers with the dates and times, but if it’s not worth the wannabe party potentates’ time to reach out to the voters in each community, perhaps they really are just wannabes.

If a leadership campaign team is too busy to contact the media, perhaps it should accept as a reasonable consequence that the media isn’t going to pay much attention to the campaign.

I’m certain Mr. Mulcair’s reference was intended more for the national dailies and TV news networks, but it seems indicative of the entire NDP leadership slate’s tendency to lament the lack of attention it never ensured it deserved.

Had the candidates (and their respective teams) done their jobs better – contacting the small, local papers and ensuring the people in each community knew when and where they were coming through town – one might reasonably expect the sum total of that effort would be an improved national consciousness regarding the upcoming NDP leadership convention.

A reasonable expectation might also be that the national media starts paying attention sooner, given the grassroots interest built through the connections with voters in communities across the country.

It’s the national politicians’ own responsibility to ensure that if they’re having a party, the people in the various communities across the country get an invitation.

If no one gets an invite until the last minute, the host should hardly be surprised when the room is mostly empty.

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