One man’s leak is another man’s press briefing

A BIT more angst in Camden’s Labour group through Saturday. Party whips are on the trail of the author of a new email sent to councillors with maddening fury at recent ‘leaks’ and suggesting where they came from. Members have been told not to give the message, written by someone who describes herself as a Labour group member angry at ‘cowards’ in the group, any credence.

On the subject of leaks, the word itself is spiky, don’t you think? Sounds like we are dealing with the disclosure of a secret recipe for an A-bomb. It’s not that grand and it’s not as if Labour politicians at all levels haven’t used whispered phone calls to news editors for their own ends every now and then.  Briefings sounds a much nicer word. I’m sure that’s the term Labour’s spin doctors would have used under the Blair years when some ministers apparently learned most about what their department was up to by reading the papers.

10 Comments on One man’s leak is another man’s press briefing

  1. Tom Foot // April 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm //

    An interesting passage in Mr Osley’s new book (p246): “A two way relationship develops where they [councillors] trust you to let them talk off the record or in complete confidence, and they feel comfortable passing on leaked information – often the source of the best stories – without fear that they might be implicated in the release.”
    So You Want To Be A Political Journalist? is available at all good bookshops.

  2. Theo Blackwell // April 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm //

    The fact is that people leaking to blogs generally overestimate the general readership of blogs.

    When I ran my blog I was always surprised by how much it was referred to given its low readership (which I privately tracked).

    Basically the only people who read blogs about Town Hall politics are politicians, activists, council offices and only then the occasional ‘real person.’

    • Richard Osley // April 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm //

      Thanks Theo. Readership of this site has grown happily since the start of the general election campaign, not saying you are wrong about who reads what but there’s a few more ‘real people’ tuning in than you might imagine. Maybe because this supplements work in a local newspaper, rather than being the only thing I do. So I guess leaks/briefings are for both, not just blogging.

  3. Theo Blackwell // April 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm //


    I wonder if you can muse upon leaking to a blog, rather than for a newspaper story.

    Obviously a potential leaker doesnt specify ‘one for your blog’ or ‘one for the newspaper’, but the existance of a blog / how it is written up is more one way traffic.

    For a newspaper story there usually seems to be more content. I.e. you get the leak and see what others think about it. But with a blog post, you can just put the leak up, without balancing the story – it lends itself therefore to more low grade, tittle-tattle from aggrieved types.

    The point I was making about relatively low volumes of readers is that the leaker thinks its going to the world at large (which in a sense it is), but fails to realise just how few people actually cotton on.

    • Richard Osley // April 13, 2011 at 4:42 pm //

      Muse: I don’t think what I write either in the paper or here has been one way traffic… You will see, work usually has something along the lines of ‘these people think this, whereas these people think that’.. Still, think use of ‘leak’ here is a bit OTT and certainly the reaction about investigations and possible disciplinary action is overblown and in some cases hypocritical

      • Fascinating exchange, perhaps we should have a colloquium on blogs/leaking etc in local politics in the coming months.

        I avidly read Theo’s blog and miss it still.

        I can’t help thinking that it’s likely that most of what Richard uses on the blog has some veracity, even if sometimes it overrepresents whether sentiment at a Lab group meeting will actually blow into a change of policy, leadership challenge etc. Journalists can’t always get that in advance, not least since local politicians are often as indecisive as national ones. But they can capture the flavour and mood of the times.

        I do recommend the Hugo Young Papers to both Richard and Theo – 30 years of careful background journalist’s notes on meetings, lunches with senior politicians of all parties. I have dipped into it but still need to read it.

  4. Theo Blackwell // April 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm //

    Yes, always makes for good stories about ‘investigations’ etc but ultimately a political group is like an organisation and there is an explicit (if not implicit) confidentiality about discussions.

    The same works for newspapers, it’s only rarely that a journalist would disagree so strongly with an editorial line that they would give this to another newspaper or broadcaster – one such instance was the telegraph whistleblower to the BBC on the Cable story about BSkyB.

    There you could justify it because of public interest. In instances where it is ‘revealed’ to Richard Osley that we are having a meeting on a certain day, it is patently less so! Nevertheless the journalist will have his head turned by something that is ‘secret’ and the leaker a smug self-satisfaction that they are less impotent than they are in real life when they hide behind anonymity.

    • Richard Osley // April 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm //

      Ha! On the issues that divide opinion in Camden’s Labour party, there are briefers (sorry, you call them leakers) on both sides of the main arguments – so the head turning must leave ‘the journalist’ described here in quite a spin!

      Once more, though, to use the loaded word ‘leaker’ for, in your example, telling somebody when a meeting is to be held is widely OTT. Half the politicians in Camden are in those terms ‘leakers’… Still, I’m sure they prefer even being called that, than being called impotent. Being impotent, as described here, must make them wonder why they bothered standing for election in the first place.

  5. Theo Blackwell // April 14, 2011 at 11:04 am //

    I think you doth verily twist my words, wordsmith.

    Those who leak can sometimes be associated with those who lose arguments in public, but harbour grudges in private. Hence the impotence line.

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