“Journalism is to politician as dog is to lamppost,” the celebrated American essayist H.L. Mencken once wrote.
The relationship between political reporters and political parties in a democracy is both mutually dependent and necessarily adversarial. Journalists need political sources to deliver news for their audience. Yet, journalism is also about holding those in power, or seeking power, to account. Parties, in turn, need journalists to achieve publicity and spread their narratives, although in a social media age they increasingly try to deliver their messages directly to their audiences and bypass reporters who are less easily fooled. For better or worse, the established media is no longer the central intermediary between politics and the electorate as it was in the 20th century.
Stories: unflattering vs favourable
In a free society, journalists will always look for news of conflict, scandal, hypocrisy, misbehaviour, personal ambition and rivalry, disruption and outrage. Clashes and failures make sexier stories than consensus and agreement. In contrast, parties look to project themselves and their policies in the most favourable light and to keep internal debates, power struggles and sleaze scandals behind closed doors wherever possible. For a party, it is vital to display unity rather than division, harmony rather than discord.