April has been a very busy month for the Australian media, with the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli and the cruelly drawn-out procedures leading towards the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia on 29 April both commanding very substantial coverage. But in the past we’ve also found that such large-scale mainstream media coverage does not always translate into substantial on-sharing of related articles through social media as well, most probably because the very visibility of these stories on the frontpages of newspapers and news sites, and in the lead pieces in TV news bulletins, means that social media users no longer feel a need to share these stories with their friends. What we should expect to see featured more strongly in our Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX), then, are the unexpected, underreported stories.
More generally, ATNIX for April 2015, which tracks the sharing of links to Australian news and opinion sites on Twitter, also reveals the differing impact of the Easter break – and school holidays – on news sharing activities. Usually strong performers, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age are particularly clearly affected by the Easter break (roughly during the first three weeks of April, depending on the state), with weekday and weekend link sharing levels almost indistinguishable during that time. ABC News, on the other hand, is barely affected except for a particularly strong weekend slump over the Easter long weekend (3-6 April): where normally the two market leaders, ABC News and Sydney Morning Herald track each other closely (as evident from their virtually indistinguishable lines during the final week of April), they drastically part company in the weeks following Easter. This may be an indication of subtle differences in their audience demographics.
Also evident, by contrast, is the very limited impact which the ANZAC anniversary on 25 April had on social media content sharing, and the similarly limited change in sharing patterns as news of the executions of Chan and Sukumaran broke. The more substantial spikes in social media sharing occurred instead on 10 April, especially for the ABC, as articles marking the passing of cricketing icon Richie Benaud were shared widely, on 6 April for the Sydney Morning Herald, as it reported on the tax avoidance strategies employed by Rupert Murdoch’s companies, and on 7 April for The Age, driven largely by it’s report that missing boy Luke Shambrook had been found alive.
There is also a prolonged period of above-average sharing for The Age during 22 and 23 April, built around a combination of articles on the search for missing toddler William Tyrell, the controversy over the extraordinary funding provided to self-styled ‘climate contrarian’ Björn Lomborg’s planned centre at the University of Western Australia, and Jimmy Carter’s op-ed about the abuse of religious scripture to subjugate women.
Not unexpectedly, the patterns in overall visits to Australian news and opinion sites as determined by Experian Hitwise look considerably different. Here, too, there is perhaps a certain slump over the course of the Easter holidays, but by contrast we certainly do also see a very pronounced spike in site visits across virtually all sites as the dramatic events surrounding Chan and Sukumaran reach their inevitable, ghastly conclusion. Interestingly, that spike is somewhat less notable for tabloids Daily Mail Australia, Herald Sun, and Daily Telegraph than for the other leading sites, reflecting perhaps that Australian Internet users chose somewhat more quality news sources as they sought the latest information about events in Indonesia.
Finally, even in spite of the wall-to-wall coverage of the event, the ANZAC anniversary did not result in any particularly elevated levels of access to the news sites on the 25/26 April weekend. It is possible that many Australians participated in dawn services and other commemorative events during these days, and therefore did not find the time to check the news as regularly as usual – but perhaps more likely, the substantial broadcast coverage of ceremonies in Turkey and at home meant that there was little need to seek out online coverage as well.
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”.