Social media and society

ATNIX: Australian Twitter News Index, September/October 2014

In my previous post, I introduced the revamped and rebooted Australian Twitter News Index, which now covers both link sharing patterns on Twitter for Australian news and opinion sites and general online popularity trends for those sites. Having covered the long-term trends since 2012 in that post, it’s now time for the first monthly update on the tweeting and browsing activities around these sites – and in this first instalment, we’ll cover the September/October period.

Over this timeframe, we saw the usual tight contest between ABC News and the Sydney Morning Herald for the top spot on Twitter – more than 400,000 links to either of these sites were shared in September and October combined. The second-tier leadership race is as close, with both and The Age receiving more than 170,000 links. Amongst the opinion sites, The Conversation (105,000 links) leads by a substantial margin, but as always we should note that its numbers are inflated by its significant international reach. (Click the graphs to enlarge.)

ATNIX, Sep./Oct. 2014. Axel Bruns / QUT Social Media Research Group

Most notable in the day-to-day link sharing patterns for this period is the significant spike in activity for The Australian on 2 October, however: that day, it rises to some 14,000 shared URLs, well above its usual paywall-affected baseline around the 2,000 mark. What we see here is an example of a story going viral on Twitter well beyond The Australian’s usual audience: its piece on the complete abolition of university tuition fees in Germany was the focus of several widely retweeted messages, with a tweet from Iowa-based TV news anchor David Nelson receiving more than 10,000 retweets alone. A less substantial spike of more than 11,000 links for the Sydney Morning Herald on 8 October is also partly caused by such international virality: its profile of the Western Sydney Wanderers’ Asian Champions League finals opponents Al-Hilal was referred to in more than 2,300 Arabic-language tweets, while its coverage of the lunar eclipse that day also received significant attention.

A comparison with the Experian Hitwise data on Web browsing patterns in Australia for the same sites and timeframe reveals significant differences, however. Here, remains clearly at the top of the leaderboard, while The Conversation maintains a similar lead amongst the opinion sites. Their respective leading margins over their nearest competitors are substantially greater than we would expect from the long-term averages we discussed in the previous post, in fact; this continues’s strong performance since the start of 2014, in particular.

Meanwhile, in news Daily Mail Australia has overtaken The Age in the total number of visits it received over these two months, and in opinion Crikey is dealing with serious competition in the form of The New Daily, The Morning Bulletin, and Independent Australia – something of a surprise in the case of the first two publications, since neither have yet begun to feature especially strongly in the Twitter data, where opinion sites are usually performing comparatively strongly.

Total visits to Australian news and opinion sites, Sep./Oct. 2014. Data courtesy of Experian Marketing Services Australia.

By contrast, a closer look at the impact which The Australian’s unexpectedly viral university fees story on 2 October had on its overall baseline of site visits provides a useful cautionary tale to any newspaper editors who might use such anecdotal observations as justification to publish a greater number of clickbait pieces: there was no discernible change in the total number of visits to The Australian’s Website (averaging at around 170,000 visits per day) on or after 2 October.

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 (,, are filtered to exclude the non-news sections of those sites (e.g., 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”.