Compared to the excitement of January and February, March 2015 has turned out to be a comparatively quiet month in Australian public life, even in spite of the New South Wales state election campaign which culminated in the re-election of Mike Baird’s Coalition government on 28 March. The immediate heat has dissipated from the leadership debate around PM Tony Abbott: contenders Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop are resorting to playing the long game and as any potential new leadership challenge looks increasingly unlikely to happen before the May budget.
For the purposes of our Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX), which tracks the sharing of links to Australian news and opinion sites on Twitter, this period of relative calm manifests in comparatively stable, regular link sharing patterns. ABC News and the Sydney Morning Herald continue to track neck-and-neck with some 315,000 to 320,000 links shared throughout the month, and are firmly established as Twitter news market leaders in Australia, with third-placed The Age reaching only some 135,000 tweets over the same period.
The major point of heightened activity during the month occurs in the week of 16 March, especially for ABC News, as the full aftermath of tropical cyclones Nathan (off far north Queensland), Olwyn (northwestern Australia), and – most devastatingly – Pam (which caused severe destruction in Vanuatu) became known. A report that several elderly indigenous residents in Carnarvon were denied access to a cyclone shelter ahead of Olwyn’s arrival was especially widely retweeted. Meanwhile, a particularly spectacular Aurora Australis event which was visible even from the mainland generated additional shares for the ABC.
Meanwhile, major political stories fail to emerge beyond general day-to-day sharing. The Australian records a brief spike in shares on 2 March with an article suggesting that a major ally of Indonesian President Joko Widodo had come out against the death penalty for Bali Nine drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, and PM Tony Abbott’s swiftly withdrawn comparison of Bill Shorten with Joseph Goebbels in parliament causes a brief flurry of outrage on 19 and 20 March, but there is little sustained engagement with either of these stories, beyond average levels.
And finally, the comparatively uneventful end to the NSW election campaign (at least by contrast to the surprising outcome of the Queensland poll, one month earlier) similarly fails to significantly affect the sharing of links to Australian news and opinion sites – indeed, 28 and 29 March are the days which see the fewest links to the Sydney Morning Herald shared during March, even compared to the already lower weekend averages for the paper.
Such a lack of sharing does not represent a lack of interest in the results of the New South Wales election, however. Turning to our Experian Hitwise data, which show the total number of user visits to the leading Australian news and opinion sites, we can see that the Sydney Morning Herald and – especially – ABC News record comparatively strong results on 28 and 29 March; with almost 770,000 visits to its site, ABC News in particular receives as many visitors on the Sunday as it usually does on weekdays. This points strongly to the ABC’s continuing role as the nation’s premier source of information on election results – similar to the patterns we observed in the previous Queensland election.
However, especially in the absence of any major election surprises, it is also evident that Twitter and (presumably) other social media users did not feel the need to specifically share the NSW election results with their followers and friends: the elevated levels of access to the ABC and other news sites on and after election day did not result in significant additional shares. Had there been any unforeseen developments, the picture would likely have been very different.
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 Experian Marketing Services Australia. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.