Here we are again with the latest weekly instalment of the Australian Twitter News Index. First off, I’m happy to say that the index is now also the subject of a weekly column at The Conversation, where I’ll cross-post ATNIX updates as well as other commentary on social media and society in Australia and beyond. More on that as it develops – but for now, let’s get back to the issues at hand.
Standard background information: this analysis is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites. For technical reasons, it does not contain ‘button’ retweets, but manual retweets (“RT @user …”) are included. 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 irrelevant sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). For our analysis of ‘opinion’ link sharing, we include only those sub-sections of mainstream sites which contain opinion and commentary (e.g. abc.net.au/unleashed, articles on theaustralian.com.au which include ‘/opinion’ in the URL), and compare them with dedicated opinion and commentary sites.
ATNIX Week 37: 10-16 Sep. 2012
As it turns out, this week is yet another quiet one – so much so that I’m starting to wonder whether there’s some kind of underlying trend here. Is it the approaching footy finals season? Spring holidays? Or a general news fatigue this deep into the year? Whatever the reason, with only 115,000 tweets linking to Australian news sites, we’ve reached a new low, down substantially again from last week’s already rather paltry 128,000 tweets.
Strangely, it’s been ABC News which has taken an especially big hit this week. The Sydney Morning Herald retained its position (in fact, it received a few hundred more links than last week) – but the ABC’s share of Twitter links declined by more than 5,000 tweets, which strikes me as very odd. Such troughs are difficult to explain: for spikes in activity, it’s usually easy to identify the stories which caused them, but – assuming the ABC didn’t publish a substantially smaller number of news stories than usual last week – what causes the Twitter userbase to just stop linking to a given site? Very curious.
Otherwise, the ranking and relative distribution of Twitter links across the major Australian news sites has remained more or less stable this past week; it’s simply the total volume of activity which has declined:
On to the opinion and commentary sites and sections – and interestingly, here the total volume of tweets has even increased slightly from last week (from 15,700 to 17,600 tweets linking to these sites). The SMH opinion section puts in another very dominant performance – receiving more than one quarter of these links –, while Crikey and New Matilda also maintain their recent form. The ABC’s The Drum (at abc.net.au/unleashed), meanwhile, continues to slip down the order: from position five in week 35 through eight last week to nine this time around. Something’s going on here:
In other news, it’s also worth noting that the Daily Telegraph’s grandly announced anti-trolling campaign – addressing a technology and social media topic which we should expect to be of significant interest to Twitter users, which we know was a winner for news.com.au a couple of weeks ago – comprehensively failed to resonate with Australian Twitter users. Presumably, they recognised this exercise in cynical populism for what it was, and declined to provide it with additional oxygen.
On to the daily patterns, which clearly illustrate both the low volume of news sharing activity in general, and the significant decline in ABC News tweets in particular, which we found this week:
In the absence of any marked spikes in activity for any of the sites we’re tracking, there really isn’t much else to say here – except to note the continuous decline in ABC News shares since the (Assange-driven) heady heights of week 33. Even the market-leading Sydney Morning Herald follows a similar pattern, though its attention share hasn’t dropped down quite as precipitously.
For the past week, this is also due to a certain boost in activity which it received from its opinion section, especially on the weekend, as the next graph shows. The spike in activity which we see on Sunday 16 Sep. is due almost exclusively to the sharing of a confrontational ‘open letter’ from sports writer Peter FitzSimons to the participants in sometimes violent protests in Sydney against the notorious Innocence of Muslims video, which was shared over 800 times.
Not pictured here, but also significant, is a spike in tweets linking to New Matilda on 13 Sep., which accounts for the site’s strong performance this week. That spike is driven largely by two pieces: an update on the legal situation of imprisoned WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, and another story about federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s purportedly pugilistic political past. Between them, some 320 tweets linked to these stories – enough to make an impact in an otherwise unremarkable week.
So much for week 37, then. Given the range of major stories during week 38 (from further protests about the Innocence of Muslims film to the unravelling Romney campaign in the U.S.), we might expect the volume of tweets to increase again – but as these are largely international stories, Twitter users may also choose to share links to international rather than domestic news sources, of course. Due to some server maintenance, I’m afraid we’ll also have some gaps in next week’s data – but we’ll make do with what we have.