Politics meets theatre in the new London Playbook, an early morning newsletter under the POLITICO.eu umbrella, compiled before dawn by Jack Blanchard.
But what is a ‘playbook’? And what can it contribute to the fine London media? In the following podcast (scroll down) and faithful transcript, LFD asks this question and others of Ryan Heath, Senior EU correspondent of Politico Europe and editor of the hit Brussels Playbook.
What is the ‘Brussels Playbook’?
Ryan Heath: So, the Brussels Playbook began when Politico Europe began (in 2015). What I try and do is each morning is give a guide to the day ahead in European politics, we try and make this more of a showcase of all the best writing across Europe and sometimes that’s from Politico and often it’s not. But it’s really a place where you can see in three or four minutes everything you need to know to sound smart in your morning meeting, or keep up with the big stories of the day in Europe.
So, there is a email that goes out on weekday mornings, and then we were producing a slightly different version of it and that was I guess you might call the more ‘gossipy’ version of the Playbook as a bit of a lighter weekend affair, where it was less about what is Angela Merkel up to and more about ‘Oh this silly thing happened at the Parliament’ or this person got locked in this lift and wasn’t that terrible. And then the podcast is more of a personal passion where I just think podcasts are fun, it’s nice to be able to chat to the person behind the story and learn a little bit more about them.
But why ‘Brussels Playbook’?
Brussels, because we wanted to be a bit forward thinking in the sense that we could have called it the European Playbook, but then what would happen when we started to get other ‘Playbooks’, and that’s now a live issue because from September there will be a London Playbook.
So if I call myself the European Playbook then I am cutting out a bit of the opportunity for the London Playbook to develop in the way it might want to develop. And because the EU is based in Brussels and we’re based in Brussels ultimately we just settled on Brussels. But I think Brussels can be very boring if you don’t show how it’s connected to the other capitals – so I always try and break out of that Brussels bubble.
And ‘Playbook’, I don’t have a very good answer for that but that is a term from American Football and it’s commonly used in the US, and I didn’t appreciate that when I joined Politico, as an Australian, but Americans know what you’re talking about when you say ‘playbook’ … I think it’s quite intuitive if you think about it, well … not intuitive, but it’s logical if you think about it: it’s … how you would progress an issue, what you should do to get to where you want to go on a given day (?) but a lot of people give me a funny look where they’re, like: ‘what does this even mean, I don’t get it.’ And then I have to show them the product and then once they saw the product they didn’t really care what it’s called – they just liked it and they kept reading it. So in Europe the name is a little bit of a … well, it’s not an ‘irrelevance’ … but it doesn’t have the same weight that it does in the US.
Politico Europe has a whole section dedicated to Brexit. What can P.eu offer that the British papers can’t?
Well, the British papers really don’t really have that many people based here (in Brussels). It’s starting to change. So, most of the main newspapers have one correspondent here, Sky News has two people, and the BBC has always had a larger bureau, although they do send those people out to other capitals all the time, so it’s not that they have a massive team in Brussels, it’s more that they have an anchor in Brussels and those people are back and forth, in lots of different places. But compared to us, we have more resources to look at it, and we don’t come at it from a British national interest perspective – which is not to say that Britain doesn’t have a legitimate national interest to look at, but I do find that the British papers, they find it a lot easier to believe what Downing Street tells them… than other reporters would – so I think that we provide a bit of distance, or objectivity compared to when you’re sucked into that travelling bubble of journalists that turns up once a month for a summit
Is the London Playbook an alarm call for lazy British journalists?
London is just ripe for a Playbook in my opinion, where it’s a huge media market and its very heavily contested. They have obviously lots of newspapers, very successful television channels and very popular radio networks, and successful websites – a lot of European countries don’t have big money making websites in the way that the UK also has. But, I do think that there is a gap in that morning market in London, where some newspapers including The Times do have a newsletter that they email out to people, but it strikes me that the people who run those newsletter don’t like getting up early in the morning. So, they do it from home, it comes out at sort-of 8.30 or 9 O’clock something like that… but its never anything that’s really breaking news as far as I can tell, and it’s not comprehensive. It’s more like one person is taking (on) ‘the world’ or ‘the best things that you’ll find on our website’. So for someone to be able to give you an overview of that whole scene, and also to connect some important dots: so not just politics, but London is also a centre of finance, it’s a centre of media, it’s a centre of tech. So I think to have someone who would be able to join those four worlds together, to show you how they all intermingle, and delve behind the surface layer that you do already get from the existing outlets … I think that… it’s going to be a challenge to make it work, but I definitely think that there’s a space to make it work.
Politico.eu is actually hiring journalists! But mainly those specialised in politics and tech. What is the relationship?
Tech is not its own policy area now it’s just something that’s part of all elements of life. And it certainly affects how politics is conducted, if you look at how different interests tried to hack the US election or how all campaigns now are run through social media rather than billboards on the street. And tech attracts a lot of money because people think they can obviously make a lot of money from the next big thing. So you have all of these areas where either tech exercises power, or big money and big interests are involved in tech. So, it’s worth looking at it in a bit more detail.
(the above are the bits that I didn’t use from an article for the educational magazine Speak Up (RBA) published in Italy and Spain. That article is coming out in November!)