4.2 Types of Items
We divided the items originated by the four mastheads into five types within an overall division into reportage and commentary: reportage – news, features, running news blogs; commentary – editorial, opinion. We also analysed letters, which although they are selected and organised for layout by staff are written by readers.
- News News items report fresh and timely information. They usually provide the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ of events. They often contain quotes from sources. Traditionally, news did not include overt editorial opinion, but this has changed recently. With the development of the internet, running news blogs have been developed and were included with news in this report.
- Features Features have traditionally been the form of story that provides an opportunity to include a diversity of sources, description, research analysis, and storytelling techniques. However, rather than being more in-depth and longer than news, many features in this sample were very short features in lifestyle sections or small one-person profiles or interviews. We also included small reviews with features.
- Opinion Opinion is also known as comment. According to Australian Press Council guidelines, opinion should be based on accurate facts. However, researchers noted the emotive and strident tone of many pieces (Gurney, 2017). It can be provided by in-house journalists, regularly commissioned columnists, or guest columnists.
- Letters Letters are sent in by readers and curated by journalists under the supervision of senior editors. They can vary between letters of up to 200 words (occasionally longer) to short text or statements. Many are triggered by opinion pieces.
- Editorials The views expressed by the editor of the publication. These usually have no nominated author.
4.2.1 High levels of opinion compared to low levels of features
It is worth noting that while news was the biggest category (32%), opinion pieces were closely followed totalling 27% of all items. This reflects the increasing amount of commentary and the reduction in the amount of news in media observed by other researchers (ACIJ & ABC, 2014). The influence of opinion pieces on the overall coverage becomes clearer when the publications are compared in this report.
Features, which provide more opportunities for depth in reportage and analysis, were only 9% of all items. This is far less than ‘opinion’, which also tends to be more prominently displayed, especially in tabloids. Overall, there were very few longer features (more than 800 words) that related to climate change in these four publications, and even fewer that focused on climate science and the impacts of climate change (see Section 6.2). We also found low levels of features in our earlier reports (Bacon, 2013). This reflects resource constraints available for reportage, including a lack of reporters, and editorial policies favoring more subjective content.
4.2.2 Quantity of types of articles compared in publications
- The Australian had the highest proportion of news at 39% compared to opinion at 22%.
- The Daily Telegraph had more opinion (30%) than news (27%). Together, commentary - editorials, opinion and letters - were 62% compared to more information-based news and features at 38%.
- The Herald Sun had 39% of opinion which was nearly double the amount of news (20%). Together, the more opinion based types of articles - editorials, opinion and letters - were 73% compared to news and features which were 27%.
- The Courier Mail had more news (31%) than opinion (23%).
- In all publications, there were low levels of features - eight percent of items in Courier Mail, 7% in the Herald Sun, 10% in The Australian, and 11% in The Daily Telegraph.
4.2.3 High levels of commentary
Overall across the four mastheads, commentary (editorials, opinions and letters) was 59% of items compared to more information-based news and features which, when combined, were 41%.
The high proportion of commentary material highlights the influential role it plays in driving the overall coverage. The levels of scepticism and negative attitudes towards action to address climate change in opinion pieces is discussed in Sections 4.5 and 4.6.
This smaller word-count study showed that the Herald Sun had a particularly high percentage of its words in opinion (61%) compared to the overall sample (42%). More than two-thirds of the Herald Sun word-count was opinion or letters, which are often written in response to opinion pieces. This may reflect the strong influence of the Herald Sun’s most prolific opinion writer, Andrew Bolt. The lowest word count of commentary was in the Courier Mail with 41% (opinion 25%, letters 15%, and editorials 1%) which conversely had the highest proportion of word-count in news and features (58%).