Editors' no-brainer - sexy judges or dull old politics?

On The Press: Even quality papers have cut their coverage of the party conference

If you've never been to one it is hard to imagine what it's really like. I have been to many, but have taken cold turkey in recent years, and found it good for the liver and the sanity. More important, it is a useful reality check. To go to a political party conference is to enter a secure zone where you not so much remove your shoes as lose your links with the rest of humanity.

Political journalists, politicians even, usually go home, or somewhere, at night. In Manchester, Bournemouth or Brighton the conference is everything, as long as it lasts. In Westminster the political journalists co-exist with the politicians, and nobody else gets in the way. At the party conference others seek to get a piece of the experience.

So the politicians are joined by the party members and workers, and the political journalists are joined by their editors and columnists, sometimes even their managers. All these relationships are testing.

It is seductive and easy to convince yourself that for a few days you are in the only place where it is happening, at the epicentre of events. So when the two great moments come - Gordon's speech and Tony's speech - you feel the glow of the cup final ticket or the first night in the stalls. You are privileged to be where millions out there would love to be. Only they wouldn't. They are not giving it a thought.

Back in newspaper offices it is quiet because so many are away at conference. Those planning tomorrow's paper know that the must-read story of the week will be the two judges, sex and the cleaner. They also know that they will be getting calls from conference about coverage of the speech. Decisions are difficult. It used to be easier when papers assumed they had a duty to report certain events because of their importance - and major party conference speeches came into those categories. It was the "newspaper of record" concept and, to an extent, that included not only the upmarket papers. There would be reports of each conference debate and near verbatim texts of the leader's speech.

No more. Because speeches are broadcast live with Andrew Neil and Simon Mayo there is an assumption that those who want to hear them will. This disregards the fact that in the early afternoon most of this group will be working. But the BBC does its duty and the print media feel they can concentrate on the interpretation.

Politicians moan about the focus on personalities, but when the issue of the Labour conference wasabout who was going to be prime minister, such moans can hardly be convincing. The papers had to decide whether to give the speeches much coverage; they were mindful of their audiences, the presumed degree of their political interest, and their political persuasion.

So it was hardly surprising that on Brown day the Daily Express led on Romanian immigrants getting £8 flights to Britain, the Daily Star on Richard Hammond of Top Gear wanting his crash shown on TV and the Mirror on "My grief ... by killer dogs' mum". Even The Independent preferred women's rights in Afghanistan to Gordon Brown. And the papers that felt Brown's speech was important enough for the front page concentrated on Cherie's alleged "liar" remark about Gordon.

The Blair speech was given more prominence, and it was here the coverage reflected the politics of the paper. The serious papers all led on it, and played it straight. The more political tabloids, The Sun and Mirror, majored on Tony. It was "Blairwell" from the Mirror and "I did it my way" from The Sun.

The Daily Mail led not on Blair but on the right of Bulgarians and Romanians to come to Britain. They left it to columnist and former Telegraph editor Max Hastings to savage Blair. "Almost every word Blair spoke would have been perjury had he been on oath," was the quote across the top of the front page from a two-page mauling inside.

This week David Cameron will get the treatment. The Daily Telegraph will be the one to watch.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Loren Hughes: Commercial Finance Analyst

£55,000 - £60,000: Loren Hughes: Are you a newly qualified accountant from a B...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower