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From Benghazi to Buckingham Palace

There's no denying it's been a mind-bender of a past couple of months.

As a CBC field producer, I sometimes find myself on the front lines of some of the biggest stories on the planet - a witness to history, so to speak.

Consider my last couple of assignments and the mental pivots necessary to do them justice:  the conflict in Libya, and now the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Ajdabiya.JPGWhile in eastern Libya with correspondents Nahlah Ayed (pictured here with cameraman Pascal Leblond and myself in Ajdabiyah on March 26) and Margaret Evans, we were fortunate enough to be able to bring Canadians the stories of rebel efforts against the forces of Moammar Gadhafi, the plight of Libyan refugees in their own land, and much more.  For journalists, the Libya conflict is a serious news story - serious in the sense that war is ugly, and has deadly consequences. And serious in the sense of geopolitical ramifications. It was also a serious challenge to cover.

In contrast, some may argue that covering a royal wedding is a sugar-coated walk in the park.

Well, not quite.

The technology - how the information gets to you, the viewer, listener or social media follower - has evolved over the years.  But so have the media gate-keepers - the filters between us and you, and in this case, I'm talking about the royal PR machine.  The way they operate has changed, too.  That affects what we can or can't show you about a story.  And that affects, quite simply, a record of history.   

A step back for a moment, to decades past:  In the Charles and Diana days, the palace press office consisted of one or two press secretaries.  They've been described to me as low-key, stodgy, bereft of journalistic or public relations experience, always reactive, never pro-active.  It was an era when tabloids ruled, climaxing of course in the tragic death of Diana, the Princess of Wales.

In the years since, the palace press office hasn't just changed.  It has grown, too, to teams of twenty or so, across both Buckingham Palace and Clarence House. They are made up of mostly professional public relations officers, often taken directly from the media's ranks or from other high-profile private sector gigs.

Take Paddy Harverson, a senior palace communications manager.  He used to handle PR for Manchester United soccer club, a career path that would've been unthinkable in the old days.  For months now, Harverson and his teams have been parsing out tidbits of William and Kate news to an insatiable world audience via us, the media.  They've been pro-active, not reactive, for the most part.

From back then to now, it's really been an evolution of necessity, a topic I've been looking into these last number of weeks as the royal wedding approaches.

The monarchy needs the media.  

As long-time royal photographer Arthur Edwards told me, it's not good enough for the royals to do charitable or other good work.  They have to be seen to be doing good work.  

Judy Wade, royal correspondent for Britain's Hello! magazine put it more bluntly, "The Royal Family would be out of business or in the wilderness without the media."

Edwards and Wade are just a couple of people you'll meet later this week on The National in a special Peter Mansbridge report.   You'll also hear new revelations from some of the "insiders" who were key to the royals' evolution in terms of how they dealt with the media.

If the beginning of that evolutionary period began under sad circumstances, it does climax at a happy time.  And we'll bring you that angle as well - the story of what happened behind palace walls, what the spin doctors orchestrated but you didn't see the day Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement to the world.

Now, it's wedding week. And rightly or wrongly, many of the world's media organizations are devoting ten, even one hundred times the resources to covering William and Kate's big day than to their, say, their Libya coverage.

If the palace's media managers have gotten it right, the demand for information and access to all things royal will carry through until Friday.  They will have been largely in control of the message, and the wedding itself will be the most viewed event in history.

westminister abbey.JPGSo then, this story of two people getting married - a sugar-coated walk in the park compared to the Libya story?

Well maybe, but it's what we know about how and why things are unfolding in London this week that is relevant. And will, like the unfolding battle in Libya, become a part of history.

Watch Stephanie Jenzer's story Palace Confidential from Wednesday, April 27 on The National.
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