24-hour news cycle or 24-hour opinion cycle?

This morning on Local Radio, ABC 702, I listened to an interesting interview of Mr. Lachlan Harris by Ms. Deborah Cameron.

Mr. Lachlan Harris was formally a Press Officer to Mr. Rudd.

Mr Harris is promoting the idea the 24-hour news cycle not problematic.  His proposition is that we no longer have a 24-hours news cycle but a 24-hour opinion cycle.

During the interview, it was raised that that blogs sites are to blame for this transformation but was denied by Mr. Harris. 

Maybe this is true, but I believe there are also blogs emerging that are seeking truth and facts. 

People are visiting blog sites, because they cannot find what they want in the media.  They cannot find truth, and facts.

The reason according to Mr. Harris is that the media is giving the people what they want.  Mr. Harris pointed out that opinion and comment is much cheaper than news and facts.

Mr. Harris made the point that in this media climate, genuine political reform cannot exist.  This was true for all political parties.

Mr. Harris also said that the opinion cycle is a nasty place to be.  It caters to the lowest denominator in society.

As the result of this new phenomenon, how are we going to see the emergence of journalist such as Mr. Laurie Oakes? 

We have seen channel Ten abandon the George Negus show at six thirty to be replaced by the 7 pm Report.  A show that dealt in fact to one that relies on opinion.

It was also said that Drum, ABC24 was little more than opinions.

We have Mr. Lachlan’s proposition following Mr. Lindsey Tanner’s book, The Sideshow that said very much the same thing.

Mr. Oakes at the Olle Media Lecture said many similar things.

“……..Harris’s presentation – When your communication gets into a spin – the battle of policy vs populism – focused on “the rise and rise and rise of the opinion cycle” and why it has become more important than the news cycle.

Harris has examined the changes in the media over the past five years. His conclusion?

“Opinion happened”

He says: “Opinion has always been a big part of the media but never like it is now.”

Harris contends the media industry, which has until recent years been driven by the traditional news cycle, has given way to the cycle of opinion (which includes tweets, blogs, talkback radio etc).

As far as the Australian media industry is concerned, “the apprentice has become the master – opinion reigns supreme”.

This in turn has resulted in “massive fundamental change” to the political landscape.

The rise of opinion is new and it’s fundamentally changing the way politics runs, he says.

News and opinion are intertwined but opinion cycle is “slowly smothering the news cycle”.

Tweets, comments, blogs, email, talkback – collectively – are now more important and influential than the news story.

According to Harris, the difference between news and opinion is simple:

News is a flow of information that depends on facts, opinion is a flow of information that depends on argument.

“Opinion is a fundamentally different proposition to news”

 So much of the information we’re exposed to in politics has little to do with facts.

Facts don’t matter, arguments do, he says.

According to Harris, five years ago Kerry O’Brien was the most influential media figure in Australia; today it’s Andrew Bolt (because he has a talent for provoking debate).



“…Many of the young journalists entering the industry still want to achieve the same things as their predecessors. But our will to fight to keep alive traditional media is continuing to drain…”


To me, what is more worrying to me, that those giving the opinion do not have the experience or knowledge to form opinions that are above those of the public.

There is very little forensic journalist to be found anywhere.  Four Corners appears to be the only outlet left.  In the past, shows such as Sixty Minutes and those following the news each day fulfilled this need.

“……..G’day PR Warrior, I believe there is a lot in what Lachlan and you say, and I’m not sure there’s an easy fix.

Traditional media organisations have been cutting expenses in traditional management style and have failed to maintain their values and standards.

As a result, they have spent the last couple of decades throwing away their Unique Selling Proposition.

They have also spent that time diversifying their business interests into entertainment and gaming, which now provides the lifeblood for many of these organisations.

It is no coincidence that traditional media sales have fallen in real terms, almost in inverse proportion to the rise and rise (and rise) of opinion. We can get opinions at the local pub.

What we want from traditional media organisations are the credible facts we can use to back-up our views and fuel our debates.

As an industry, PR has been extremely remiss in not strongly supporting journalists in their role as the fourth estate. Opinions have nothing to do with the role of the fourth estate. We are partially responsible for allowing this problem to occur.

We need to challenge traditional media to return to values-based journalism that meets standards, but we won’t take on that challenge because it is not seen as being good to challenge media proprietors and some see it as against the interests of clients.

People like traditional media. Despite predictions for the last 40 years or so that it was dying, we continue to keep it alive. We still like reading papers in the mornings, however they are delivered…”


The questions I asked, is this good enough? 

Is it up to the media supply only what they say we want? 

Should the fourth estate be fulfilling its role by ensuring news and facts, are publish above opinion? 

Do the media have any responsibilities in relation to society? 

Is the only responsibility the media has is to the shareholders?

If the media has no responsibilities, where do we find truth and facts?