Elections seem to have a special effect on producers. For the next 24 hours they will be working around the clock under a sort of spell which urges them to feel whatever result was achieved it will mean dramatic change. As if the rest of the problems in the rest of the world were nothing compared to these news. No massacres, wars, plane crashes will be as important as understanding what’s next for their country.
The Dutch government stepped down on the same weekend of the French presidential elections.
It was a difficult time for the cabinet to throw in the towel as insecurity in financial markets had already provoked alarming bells in credit agencies who threaten with a downgrade of the Dutch AAA status.
The coalition had only been ruling for 1,5 years and no Dutch citizen wanted to head to the ballots this soon.
So when I got a call on Monday from a producer from a top international news television channel (I won’t name and shame), I immediately assumed they wanted the latest on the Dutch political debacle.
“Yes, indeed”, she told me. “And we also want to know what’s the Dutch government’s reaction to the French election results”.
I was walking in front of the bus station so I made sure I stopped to listen perfectly well to what I was being asked: “What do you mean?”
It was the first presidential round in France, no president was chosen as of yet, and to be clearer, there was no Dutch government anymore. Calling the PM’s office for a reaction would surely end up with the press assistant hanging the phone on me excusing he had more urgent matters to deal with.
The producer was clearly inexperienced: “I don’t know, a reaction. I’ll get someone to call you with more information on that”. Please do, I told her.
Moments later I did get a call. At first I thought he was calling me to explain the Dutch reaction to French elections situation, but as we spoke I suddenly realized I was talking to a producer from another media in the same country as the tv-channel. Unknowing this was another client I ended up revealing my previous conversation with the junior journalist. He seemed as surprised as I was and simply said “Hey, whatever gets you paid, right?”.
Yes, that’s the situation correspondents and stringers are now facing: untrained journalists with no self-reflection telling more experienced reporters exactly what they should do. ‘Whatever gets you paid’ is the new motto in an era of dramatic change to the media landscape. Forget about common-sense, the first-round of presidential elections is really what’s important in a Dutch citizen’s life when its government has just crashed and burnt.