What does Abbott’s spill tell us about today’s media environment?

by Rebecca Thurlow, 15 September 2015

In his final speech as Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott noted how much the nature of politics had changed in the past decade.

“We have more polls and more commentary than ever before. Mostly sour, bitter, character assassination. Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving-door prime ministership which can’t be good for our country. And a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.”

So what has changed so much in the past decade?

In my view, the five key trends having the most impact on news today are:

1. The changing pace of news

The rise of the 24/7 news cycle with demand for online content and round the clock access to news has changed the way companies and politicians deal with the media. Politicians now have a morning message, an afternoon message and an evening message. The agenda is moving so quickly that there is no longer time to have proper and thoughtful debates on key topics. A key criticism of Abbott was his use of slogans – such as ‘stop the boats’, ‘great big tax’ – which played into the frantic 24/7 news cycle.

2. The increasing use of commentary as news

As Abbott mentioned in his speech, there is more commentary than ever before. The demands of the 24/7 news cycle has led to the rise of the use of commentary instead of news. Paywalls have put up barriers to news websites for some people and instead they access their news on free websites. Readership numbers are decreasing; fewer people are watching the news on television which has impacted advertising rates, classifieds and more importantly, the number of gainfully employed journalists. The result of which is more space to fill with the changing news cycle, but fewer journalists to fill it.

3. The rise of ‘brand journalism’

As media outlets shrink and brands become publishers, there has been a trend towards content hubs and digital newsrooms. For example, ANZ BlueNotes, launched in 2014, is one of the most advanced content publishing hubs in Australian business, bringing together content from BlueNotes journalists/editors, ANZ columnists and external contributors. Key to the success of ‘brand journalism’ is an emphasis on the value of the journalism, not on the brand.

4. Socially-driven news

If searching for news was the most important development of the last decade, sharing news may be among the most important of the next. One in three of all mobile internet minutes in Australia are spent on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. Social media users are increasingly sharing news stories, images and videos in addition to discussing news issue or events. Additionally, some users are also covering the news themselves, by posting photos or videos of news events.

5. Headline-driven news

Last year, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith dismissed luring the reader in with clickbait, noting that “you can trick someone to click, but you can’t trick someone to share”. Instead, the trend is now to create a headline that describes promising content and delivers on that promise, called the curiosity gap. The curiosity gap is the space between what we know and what we want or even need to know.

In his speech Abbott also requested that: “If there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this: refuse to print self-serving claims that the person making them won’t put his or her name to. Refuse to connive at dishonour by acting as the assassin’s knife.”

I think we all have a role to play in what the future of media will look like.

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