A Royal Birth & the Media

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Slightly off-topic, granted, but I think the rest of today is going to be mainly speculation as we wait to learn Baby Boy Sussex’s name and for the release of official photos. As such, I thought I would share a little bit about what is going on with reporter chatter online surrounding the birth announcement, as well as some interesting takeaways from an article I stumbled across interviewing Miguel Head, the former chief of staff for the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex.

Long story short, of course there is some angst surrounding how Harry and Meghan (and/or the Palace, depending on how you look at it) handled the birth announcement. Because, of course there is. It was a break with recent tradition, and it moved control of Baby Sussex’s first photos firmly into the hands of his parents, erasing a big media moment.

I’m all for it, personally, but I’m not a royal reporter and to be fair, the Royal Family’s growing use of social media for announcements has applied even more tension on their relationship with the press. Instead of embargoed releases and briefings, more and more, reporters are finding out about big news the same way we are – Twitter and Instagram, if you follow any of the RF’s profiles.

As for the birth announcement, as I noted earlier, there was some confusion over how this would roll out and reporters are a bit miffed that the Palace seemingly didn’t follow their own script. The baby was born at 5:26 am GMT, so the original announcement that Meghan went into labor in the “early morning” seemingly went out after the baby was born.

Or, as Richard Palmer put it:

I’m not sure exactly what went wrong and where (duh), but I’m willing to guess the early morning, the uncertainty of labor and the fact that this was a new protocol even for those working it had something to do with it.

As for “overseas organisation,” I don’t know if Palmer means American media outlets, or if he’s alluding to Harry’s upcoming trip to the Netherlands. Harry had been slated to be in The Hague and Amsterdam on Wednesday and Thursday, while it was announced last week that the trip had been pushed and curtailed to now just include Thursday. The trip is for the Invictus Games 2020, and Harry is reportedly very eager not to miss the meetings. As of right now, he is still expected to pop over on Thursday.

The thing is, what people love about royal births – and royal weddings, etc. – is the “feel good” story, so Palmer is quite right that most people really don’t care how the information is disseminated. And I while I love picking apart the younger royals relationship with the press on really any other matter, I’m going to go ahead and give them a wide berth when it comes to the birth of Harry’s first child.

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That said, let’s pivot to Miguel Head’s interview in The Harvard Gazette, because it’s actually pretty interesting. This particular passage jumped out at me:

GAZETTE: What was the attitude of the princes toward the press and the dynamic between the two, especially given how their lives were irrevocably altered by paparazzi?

HEAD: They’re incredibly close as brothers, but they’re very different as people and that’s been reflected in the way the media have covered them. Their relationship with the media has been shaped by what happened to them in their childhood.

Prince William is a great consumer of news and current affairs and therefore has a respect for news and the importance of good journalism, and he has always maintained that respect through the time I’ve known him. The way he used to articulate that respect in private was to encourage the media to be the best versions of themselves. He felt that the competitive nature of the British press leads them to be excellent on a world stage, to produce some of the best journalism and journalists in the world, but it leads them to conduct some great excesses, as well. The way in which his parents, particularly his mother, was treated. The way in which, of course, she died.

Prince Harry was younger when his mother died and, by his own admission, that has taken him longer to process in a different way. He has a similar view of the media to Prince William in that he believes that freedom of the press is very important. But he has always found the personal relationship harder. He always wears his emotions on his sleeve. You know how Prince Harry’s feeling and that’s one of the great qualities about him, which people respond to.

On a personal level, he gets on very well with lots of journalists. When he was dating Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, there was a lot of interest in her. He felt very early on that he must lay down a red line about how she is treated by the press — not what the press says about her, the princes know that they can never control that, but just how in terms of how paparazzi photographers behaved around her. He laid down lines very early on in the relationship, which is quite unusual. Prince William waited a lot longer before he set out similar lines around then Kate Middleton.

When they were in their early 20s, the two princes were the first to be identified and take action on a scandal known as phone hacking. They were the first to realize it was happening to them. The police took action on their behalf and two people were jailed for it. The princes were very hurt by that because they had rather hoped that the excesses of intrusion into privacy that had ultimately led Diana, Princess of Wales, to be chased down a tunnel, which led to her death, would have calmed over the years and that they would be treated with a little bit more respect — not respect because of their position, but respect through dint of their humanity, of knowing what happens to people who are intruded [on] at that level. The phone-hacking scandal was a real blow to their trust in the mainstream media.

That’s an incredibly comprehensive and articulate answer, so there’s not much to parse, but I wanted to share this because I think his opinion that William and Harry have a great deal of respect for journalists is, frankly, encouraging. That tends to get buried in the back-and-forth whenever there’s a privacy breach, and the pettier squabbles over whether William and co. should be acknowledging waiting photographers at engagements (yes, they should be).

The phone hacking scandal is another factor that I think a lot of us, myself included, tend to forget. I remember that happening, but it was so long ago that frankly I rarely weigh that as a factor when considering how the BRF interacts with the press today. Apparently, I should be.

And, finally, I love this and agree with sentiment completely:

Head: One of the things that has been very healthy about the way in which the royal family has remained so popular and respected and loved in the U.K. is it has been very successful, again through no strategy, very successful at being true to the generation in which it belongs. That the two young princes married people who they quite obviously chose themselves — there was no pressure for them to marry who they married — and had the types of weddings that they had, and have conducted their public lives and private lives in the way that they have, feels very in the grain of society at large.

Our royal family is not an imperial family which has to be removed from everyday life. It’s important the royal family retains a sense of magic and mystery. I think that’s a very important part of what the royal family represents — a sense of the eternal, a sense of values that are timeless. I don’t think that should ever be lost. But that doesn’t mean to say that individual members can’t have a relationship with society that changes over time. I’ve no doubt that Prince William’s own children will have a different kind of relationship with society, not least thanks to social media. They’ll grow up with that. The royal family is never a static institution; it doesn’t have set rules that it must follow forever. It is, instead, guided by a set of principles, which each generation can interpret in their own way.

The rest of the interview is well worth a read.

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