One week is a long time in politics, as they say, and so the thirty days of September 2015 have been packed with more than enough upheavals – none more momentous, of course, than the successful Liberal Party leadership challenge on 14 September, which saw Malcolm Turnbull replace Tony Abbott as Prime Minister on the following day. Much of this month’s Australian Twitter News Index analysis is therefore focussing on the days surrounding that moment.
Curiously, though, for the most part the political drama surrounding the leadership challenge did not result in any particularly pronounced increase in link sharing on Twitter during these days. Sharing for market leader ABC News on 14 September is roughly on trend for any given Monday, and even the brief spike in links to the Sydney Morning Herald on the same day only lifts its figures by about 1,500 tweets compared to the previous Monday. The only truly notable jump in links to any one site being shared on the day is recorded by SBS, which gains some 4,000 more tweets than its usual average – and this is due almost entirely to The Feed’s comedic interventions in covering the leadership spill.
This is not entirely surprising, however. The choreography of the 2015 Abbott/Turnbull spill is notably different from that of the 2010 Rudd/Gillard spill in the Australian Labor Party, for instance: that spill – against a still comparatively popular Prime Minister – came as a considerable surprise to the general public, with rumours first circulating amongst Canberra insiders in the evening of 23 June 2010, ahead of a caucus vote the following day.
The 2015 spill, by contrast, had been anticipated at least since the unsuccessful backbench revolt in February, and Malcolm Turnbull finally declared his hand openly in a press conference just after 4 p.m., well-placed for the primetime news. This resulted in wall-to-wall TV coverage of the vote and its results, throughout the evening, thus requiring much less sharing of news updates on Twitter – what we saw on that platform instead was a great deal of discussion about the spill and its implications, centred on the hashtag #libspill. Updates from the news outlets and journalists covering the event were still widely retweeted, of course – but these largely contained live reports from outside the Liberal Party caucus rooms, rather than the links to articles on news sites that we would pick up through ATNIX.
The most shared news stories during September provide an indication of some of the issues that influenced the public mood about the Abbott government, however. Even in spite of in-depth reporting about the leadership change, the most widely shared ABC News article in September covered Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s gaffe as his cruel joke about rising sea levels was captured on a live boom microphone (3,200 shares), while a story about the Abbott government’s decision to give preference to Christians in its intake of Syrian refugees received some 1,400 shares. That said, articles reporting controversial government activities – such as its linking of environmental activism and alternative music to political radicalisation – continued to be widely shared during the Turnbull honeymoon period, too: an ABC News piece about the issue on 25 September gained some 1,900 shares.
Leading SMH articles during September were even more diverse, possibly also because they represented stories that managed to attract an audience beyond Australia: its most widely shared article during the past month covered its unmasking of a would-be Daesh supporter as a Jewish-American teenager in Florida (2,700 shares), followed by a piece featuring footage of a seal riding on the back of a whale (2,400 shares). Amidst all the political tension, perhaps Twitter users deliberately sought out some diversions?
Independent of what stories ended up being shared on Twitter, however, our Experian data on total visits to the leading Australian news and opinion sites sites provide further detail on what online sources Australian Internet users drew on as they followed the political drama surrounding the spill. Here, we see considerable increases in readership on and after 14 September for a number of the leading news sites: market leaders news.com.au gains some 425,000 additional visits, compared to the previous Monday, while the SMH picks up more than 538,000 additional visits. But the biggest jump in visits is recorded by ABC News: it gains over 720,000 additional visits on 14 September, compared to the previous Monday.
This again demonstrates the importance of the public broadcaster’s Website (and, by extension, of other quality online news sources such as the Sydney Morning Herald) during key national events – and also mirrors the way that Australian viewers flocked to ABC channels during the spill. We observed a similar pattern in our analysis of the #libspill discussion on Twitter: here, too, the accounts of ABC News and its journalists turned out to be central to the ad hoc community that formed around the hashtag as the leadership challenge unfolded.
By contrast, some of the more recent overseas entries to the Australian mediascape lost out on gaining additional visitors: the number of visits to the otherwise popular Daily Mail Australia site on 14 September essentially flatlined in comparison to the previous Monday, and even Buzzfeed Australia – which has tried hard to insert itself into the Australian political discussion through its active and irreverent social media engagement – gained only another 134,000 visits on the day of the spill. Huffington Post Australia, incidentally, has yet to make any significant impact on the Australian media landscape at all – even on the day of the leadership challenge, it failed to reach 75,000 visits.
As the political contest returns to what passes for normalcy in contemporary Australia, and the nation turns its attention to the series of sporting events unfolding in October and November, we should now expect a different set of news sources to come to the fore, however. The next ATNIX instalment should show us, for example, whether sporting success for teams has also translated into additional attention for their hometown news sites.
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 ofExperian Marketing Services Australia. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.