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More blurred lines when opinions become news

Posted by Martin Palin

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Jul 25, 2016 2:51:47 PM

Why are Sonia Kruger’s views on immigration regarded as legitimate news?

It’s a question some very experienced and respected journalists continue to wrestle with.

ABC broadcaster Richard Glover seemed at a loss recently to explain how someone’s views on immigration could possibly constitute genuine news.

He commented last week1 that “the surprise for me is that [celebrity opinions] are picked up by other media and then reported as if it’s news in itself. It is a change from even five years ago”.


He, like many others, reflects on his own experiences in drawing distinctions between news reporting, opinion, and when opinions became news.

Here is Glover trying to reconcile his traditional view of news gathering with the new media landscape: “I’m thinking back to when I was news editor at The Herald and the idea that I’d have gone and got PP McGuiness’ column from the Financial Review and gone to one of the cadet journalists and said, “PP McGuiness has written this quite strenuous piece in the Fin Review, how about you write a story about it for our paper? It’s unthinkable.”

Well, maybe unthinkable in the pre-internet days. That was when the content of newspapers determined the focus of workplace chats among colleagues and the distinction between news and opinion was pretty clear. The newspapers helped define this distinction by keeping the opinion pieces in the “Op Ed” section – normally in or around the Letters to the Editor.

They still do.

“News” was typically what filled the first 7 or 8 pages. That’s how PR people always knew what they were pitching. Was it for news or opinion?

But those days are gone and the distinctions hardly matter anymore. The lines are blurred because the focus now is on content and controversy. It doesn’t matter whether an opinion is being used to fuel controversy (as in the Kruger case) or whether the reporting of news is being used to drive additional content (as in invitations for reader comments at the end of news stories).

It’s all about content that drives controversy and, well, hang the definitions. Click on the home page of any online news site and you’ll see opinions and news mixed together. It’s just a smorgasbord of content encouraging you to click through.

It’s a big change and it’s interesting to hear very experienced, intelligent journalists grappling with the implications.

You see evidence of it in healthcare PR too.

Whereas previously we would sweat on the next big peer reviewed paper as a substantial news hook, there are all kinds of platforms being used to express opinions with a view to driving the broader news agenda.

An opinion piece contributed to an online medical news site with a few statistics and some cursory analysis thrown in seem just as likely to underpin a consumer-facing news story as a peer reviewed study published in the British Medical Journal.

It’s a different game now. Blogs, industry opinion pieces, tweets and comments are all being used to drive angles, content and controversy for online news sites.

That’s because it’s all about content and controversy.

Clearly there are learnings for PR people in this.

Your celebrity whose job it is to drive news about your topic must be very disciplined in staying on message. Any straying into more controversial areas risks being picked up in social media in a way that compromises the focus of your campaign. We’ve all seen examples of that.

And if blogs and opinion pieces can drive news, where is your content strategy to take advantage of that? If you’re still waiting around for the peer reviewed article in an international medical journal, then chances are you’re missing some opportunities along the way.

So ask not “is the best approach opinion or news”? Ask “how is my content strategy going to drive some controversy and discussion?”

You really don’t want to get caught up trying to clarify historical definitions when you could be out there getting great results.

1. Journo’s forum, ABC 702 Thursday 21/7/16

Topics: Healthcare PR, PR, newsworthiness, journalism, opinion, content, news, media, Sonia Kruger, new media


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