The Australian Twitter News Index for 2015 concludes with a double helping that covers both November and December – a time when the sharing of news stories on Twitter usually begins its slow decline towards the holiday season. These patterns are sustained in 2015 as well, although the drop-off in news engagement is more pronounced for some sites than for others: stories by Twitter market leaders ABC News and Sydney Morning Herald are shared considerably less in the weeks before and after Christmas, while third-placed source news.com.au experiences fairly little variation from week to week.
This is linked, most likely, to the range of stories commonly covered by these sites: while the politics and business updates that are the bread and butter of ABC News and SMH slow down over the holidays, entertainment and celebrity news still continue, and continue to draw readers willing to share these stories to news.com.au. ATNIX for January 2016, in turn, is likely to provide a mirror image: as politics and business resume and Twitter-based discussion is fanned by new events, so will major news stories on these topics be shared widely again.
Beyond these overall patterns, a number of key events stand out during these final months of 2015. Possibly the most widely reported of these events were the horrific terror attacks in Paris in the evening of 13 November, which resulted in a considerable number of casualties. Somewhat surprisingly, however, ATNIX for November shows only limited changes in the volume of news being shared on the relevant dates: there are moderate increases for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, the Daily Telegraph, and Yahoo!7 News, but notably no impact at all on ABC News sharing levels.
Most likely, the timing of the event is responsible for this: occurring as they did in the early hours of the Australian Saturday morning, Australian media may have been insufficiently staffed to respond with in-depth coverage immediately, and instead domestic news users would have looked towards (and then shared) European and other international media for their live coverage of events. It is only the discussion of the attacks’ consequences, and their implications for domestic politics, which would have generated further news sharing for Australian sites.
Several news stories in the Australian online news media did receive widespread attention on Twitter during these final months of 2015, however. ABC News records a substantial spike in interest early on, on 5 November: its story about a Filipino TV show that broke the Twitter world record for the most tweets in one day was in turn itself shared in more than 6,000 tweets, no doubt also by members of the sizeable Twitter community in the Philippines.
news.com.au, meanwhile, attracts considerable interest for a period of several days in early December; this is especially remarkable as this attention is sustained over the weekend, when news sharing usually declines considerably. Sadly, though, this extra boost in activity was driven almost entirely by a collection of spam accounts which incessantly tweeted links to a variety of news.com.au articles, possibly to promote a new site collecting news links from a variety of sources. By now (just over a month later), many of these spam accounts have been shut down by Twitter – and the volume of tweets sharing links to news.com.au’s content is back to normal.
Our data from Hitwise, a division of Connexity, add some further detail on the news engagement patterns for these past two months. Absent completely from the Twitter data was any indication of heightened activity during Melbourne Cup Day, confirming the well-established trend that already widely covered media events do not usually receive a significant number of shares on Twitter; the Hitwise data on visits to Australian news Websites, on the other hand, do show that – even without being prompted to do so by news sharing on Twitter – the punters did flock to a range of news sites. Leading the pack, unsurprisingly, is Melbourne paper The Age, whose visit numbers rise by some 800,000 compared to ordinary weekdays, to just over 1.8 million.
The Paris attacks similarly do generate additional visits to Australian news sites, even if their content is not widely shared on Twitter. Here, the effect is to raise the number of visits to many sites on the Saturday and Sunday following the attacks to a level comparable with what we would normally observe only on a weekday: market leader news.com.au, for instance, served some 1.8 million visits on 14 and 15 November, when on the preceding and following weekends it struggled to reach 1.5 million visits per day. News readership on the Monday is similarly enlarged, spiking at almost 2.4 million for news.com.au.
Also notable by its absence is the pronounced decline of activity towards the holiday period. There is, if anything, a minor drop-off as the year runs out, and the slowdown over 26 and 27 December is perhaps a little more pronounced than on normal weekends, but even on Christmas day many Australian news sites receive a number of visits that is broadly comparable with other, workday Fridays. Considering the year we’ve had, perhaps Australian users no longer feel that they can easily switch off from following the news.
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”.
Authors: The Conversation Contributor