It seems these days that news is no longer solely the domain of hard facts, events and people doing extraordinary things — there is another element driving the media agenda – opinion.
Whether it be comments from twitter, blogs, surveys, polls or talk back radio – public opinion is dominating much of the news.
Even journalists are no longer objective reporters of the truth; many have become commentators in their own right. A reporter interviewing another reporter has become commonplace.
According to Lachlan Harris, former press secretary to Kevin Rudd, this is due to both lazy journalism and the need to keep costs down. Comment is cheap; fact-finding is time consuming and expensive.
Speaking at the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s annual conference, Harris warned that the opinion cycle is more brutal than news because facts have to be verified, opinions don’t.
“Over the past 12 months, I’ve sat in countless boardrooms and spoken to business leaders who are literally petrified of being torn to shreds by the opinion cycle. I’m not talking about controversial CEOs who love stirring up community debate. These are ordinary, straight down the line Australian companies worried about getting smashed in the twitterverse, hammered in a blog or torn apart by talkback calls. The all-pervading sense of fear is new,” Harris said.
So what does this mean for public relations and communications specialists promoting their organisation and its leaders?
Not all media advisers are cowed by this new era of opinion.
Sam Elam, Managing Director of Media Manoeuvres agrees with Harris that opinion is the new and valuable currency when it comes to grabbing a share of the public voice.
“People like to hear other people’s opinion so they can reason their own against it. Audiences can engage more readily with opinion but this can also become dangerous if we lose the backing of it with hard core facts. Public relations practitioners and journalists alike need to be vigilant and remain the custodians of fact,” Elam said.
Director of Launch Management, Fleur Brown says used professionally, opinion is a very valid news tool – as a complement to the main story.
“The rise of social media has made media a two-way conversation. Audiences are increasingly expecting to see their own opinions reflected back to them in stories. This is a far more ‘democratic’ way of reporting and beats being held hostage to the opinions of a few media voices who may not reflect a relevant general public perspective,” Brown said.
Another PR director, Katie McMurray agrees that amidst the noise of sometimes ill-informed public debate, the expert opinion of a credible corporate leader can provide valuable cut through.
“Journalists are still looking for an authority voice,” McMurray said.
“These days business leaders have to have an opinion. And we all have a natural curiosity about how others think – it helps us orient ourselves.”
Ironically it seems that opinion on this issue is strongly divided… especially amongst those bastions of old-school reporting.
Veteran news-hound and Head of ABC News Radio Helen Thomas doesn’t believe that opinion is encroaching on the world of facts.
“At news radio we never confuse opinion with fact…we make a very clear delineation between the two.
Some of our high profile journalists might appear on The Drum as commentators but it never gets in their way of reporting the truth.”
And so it appears journalists and PR consultants continue to agree to disagree… but that’s just our opinion.
Image courtesy of HonestReporting.com