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ATNIX: Australian Twitter News Index, May 2017

Mapping Online Publics - Tue, 06/06/2017 - 13:32

Between the bombshell announcement of further deep staff cuts at Fairfax publications, subsequent strike action by Fairfax journalists, the handing down of the 2017 federal budget, and the much-publicised return of drug smuggler Schapelle Corby to Australia, the news in May was surprisingly strongly focussed on domestic Australian issues.

But not all of these matters were reflected equally strongly in the Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX) for the month, which tracks the sharing of articles from Australian news and opinion sites on Twitter.

The major story in the Australian news industry itself during May was the staff strike at Fairfax, triggered by significant job cuts across the editorial offices of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and other publications. The walkout – which also affected Fairfax’s coverage of the federal budget – clearly received considerable sympathy from Australia’s Twitter users; several well-connected Twitter users in Australia posted calls to boycott Fairfax sites and refrain from sharing their articles during this time.

We would like all readers of @smh and @theage to maintain their subs but DO NOT open the papers today or visit the websites. #fairgofairfax

— MEAA (@withMEAA) 5 May 2017

As a result, during the period of the strike, on 3 to 10 May, sharing rates for articles in the leading Fairfax publications decline precipitously. Both SMH and Age return to standard day-to-day sharing levels only by the middle of the month.

Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald’s weakness over the course of the strike is so pronounced that it very nearly enables perennially third-placed site news.com.au to catch up. news.com.au’s strong performance is driven in part also by its attention-grabbing coverage of a “mystery monster” washing up on the shore of an Indonesian island, which went viral well beyond the site’s ordinary Australian audience. The article was shared in some 4,600 tweets on 13 May alone, and in almost 5,800 tweets over the course of the entire month.

The other Sydney paper, the tabloid Daily Telegraph, does not usually trouble ATNIX – though popular with readers, few Twitter users appear prepared to publicly share the stories they read on its site. In May, however, it too records a brief but major spike in sharing, for its coverage of Korean boy band BTS’s arrival in Sydney (4,400 shares on 25 May). This constitutes another example of an Australian news story spreading well beyond the national audience.

Meanwhile, the return of drug smuggler Schapelle Corby from Bali on 27 May barely even rates a mention in the Australian Twittersphere. This is even in spite – or quite possibly because – of the breathless coverage of Corby’s release by the mainstream media. While the leading commercial TV networks even interrupted their scheduled programming to bring us shaky dashcam footage of Corby’s progress from her Balinese residence to the airport, none of the most shared news links on Twitter during this time relate to the story.

ABC News does perform exceptionally well during these final days of the month – but the stories that drive that performance are about U.S. Senator John McCain’s visit to Australia (2,600 shares), and a fisherman’s close encounter with a great white shark (1,100 shares). Clearly, Corby cannot compete against such material; even Nine News and Yahoo! 7 News receive practically no attention from Twitter users for their efforts.

This pattern of disinterest is also reflected in our Hitwise data on the total number of visits to these Australian news sites. Despite the hype, the last few days of May appear utterly ordinary: Nine News and Yahoo! 7 News, along with most other news sites, fail to see any notable influx of visitors as a result of this latest development in the Corby saga.

Perhaps this is due to the saturation coverage of Corby’s return that was provided by commercial television channels, which obliterated any need to seek out further information online – but just perhaps, too, Australian news audiences are now well past caring about Schapelle Corby, and this realisation has simply not yet dawned on commercial TV executives.

Meanwhile, in spite of the considerable impact on how much its articles were shared on Twitter, the total number of visits to Fairfax sites during the staff strike of 3 to 10 May appears to decline only slightly against the long-term average: readers might not have advertised in tweets that they continued to read the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age during this time, but continue to read they did, for the most part. The 37.8 million site visits to the SMH in May, for instance, are virtually unchanged from previous months.

It is perhaps too harsh to read this entirely as a lack of solidarity with Fairfax’s striking workforce, though; some of these visits might also reflect a certain morbid curiosity about the ability of the non-journalistic skeleton teams at Fairfax publications to cover the news, embarrassing typos included. It is also notable that on budget Tuesday and the following Wednesday (9 and 10 May), it is ABC News that performs well above average: for the coverage of this major event in the Australian political calendar, readers clearly preferred the national broadcaster this year.

Standard background information: ATNIX is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude the non-news sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). Data on Australian Internet users’ news browsing patterns are provided courtesy of Hitwise, a division of Connexity. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.

ATNIX: Australian Twitter News Index, April 2017

Mapping Online Publics - Mon, 29/05/2017 - 12:49

There seems to be no end in sight to the barrage of breaking, critical news from home and abroad these days, and Australians might be forgiven for trying to switch off during the Easter and ANZAC holidays. Even if they did attempt to do so, however, the Australian Twitter News Index for April 2017 shows little evidence that they successfully managed to tear themselves away from their online and social media newsfeeds.

Overall news sharing patterns on Twitter largely continue to follow their weekly patterns; there is no sign of an extended Easter holiday away from the news, and the weekend before ANZAC Day even seems unusually active. Perhaps there is simply too much going on today that we can afford to disconnect for long.

ATNIX for April 2017 is dominated, however, by a very substantial spike in sharing Sydney Morning Herald content on 10 April. This is due in large part to the 5,900 tweets sharing news of the arrest of a Russian programmer suspected of hacking the U.S. election, and given the topic it is very likely that a substantial number of those tweets were posted by Twitter users outside Australia. We have seen this pattern with other international stories in the past: articles in Australian news sites that address key international stories occasionally go viral well beyond Australia.

On the same day, Twitter users’ attention is also drawn to news of beloved Australian comedian John Clarke’s sudden death, further increasing the volume of news-sharing tweets that day. A first piece in the SMH is shared some 1,400 times, while ABC News’ coverage receives 1,200 shares.

Over the course of the entire month, our data show again that a diverse range of unrelated topics sought to draw our attention. At the Sydney Morning Herald, in addition to its coverage of the Russian hacker’s arrest (7,200 tweets in total for the month) and of John Clarke’s death (1,400 tweets), articles on Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed changes to the citizenship test (1,500 tweets), the Australian Federal Police’s illegal access to a journalist’s communications metadata (1,300 tweets), and a commentary piece in defence of Yassmin Abdel-Magied (1,000 tweets) round out the top five.

For ABC News, its coverage of the Australian March for Science events was most widely shared in April (1,700 tweets), along with pieces on North Korea’s warning that Australia should not blindly follow the United States (1,500 tweets), John Clarke’s death (1,300 tweets), an investigation into federal politicians’ property portfolios (1,000 tweets), and a controversial video by an Islamic group that seemed to condone violence against women (900 tweets).

As they are so often, meanwhile, our Hitwise data on the total number of visits to the leading Australian news and opinion sites are only very loosely correlated with news sharing activities on Twitter. There is no sign of the substantial spike in interest in the SMH’s Russian hacker story on 10 April, suggesting again that much of this sharing was by non-Australian readers whose visits to the Sydney Morning Herald site would not be captured by Hitwise. We do see some small increases in traffic to the SMH, ABC News, and The Age that day, however, which might be attributed to audience engagement with coverage of John Clarke’s passing.

Overall, too, there is very little sign of a substantially flagging news interest during the Easter long weekend (14-17 April) or on ANZAC Day (on Tuesday 25 April). With so many simultaneous major developments, domestically as well as internationally, perhaps we just can’t afford to switch off from the news any more.

Standard background information: ATNIX is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude the non-news sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). Data on Australian Internet users’ news browsing patterns are provided courtesy of Hitwise, a division of Connexity. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.

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