Social media and society

Australian Twitter News Index: Slow Start into January

Our Australian Twitter News Index still hasn’t quite returned from holidays, so what follows in this post is another multi-week round-up, covering the four weeks of January 2013. We’ll get back into our regular rhythm soon, especially now that there’s the dank smell of electioneering in the air, but for the moment, let’s have just a quick look at how January unfolded.

ATNIX Weeks 1-4/2013: 31 Dec. 2012 to 27 Jan. 2013

Since we’re dealing with a four-week period, let’s skip straight to the day-by-day overview of activity. Here, we’re seeing a definite post-New Year’s lull in news sharing on Twitter (with a brief break for server maintenance on 12/13 Jan.):

ATNIX 1-4/2013: News Sites.

Remarkably, none of our major news sites received more than 4,000 tweets per day during the first week of the year; except for ABC News and the Sydney Morning Herald, they even struggled to pass the 2,000 mark. Indeed, for all 30 sites combined, we captured only just over 122,000 tweets that week. By week 3, that number had risen to 171,000, however – which is the strongest weekly result we’ve had since ATNIX started in mid-2012. As the graph above shows, this is driven especially by strong mid-week results for the SMH, ABC News, and The Age. At 163,000 tweets, week 4 also remains very strong, if somewhat below this peak.

Of the week 3 spikes in activity, ABC News’s Wednesday win is driven largely by its report about Paarthepan, an baby born in the Sydney immigration detention centre (530 shares), and a story about The Guardian’s plans to launch an Australian edition (200 shares) – which we will track in ATNIX as soon as the site launches, of course. At the Sydney Morning Herald, the same day sees major stories about Julia Gillard’s commitment to religious lobbies that they will continue to be able to discriminate on religious and sexual grounds (460 shares), and another piece covering The Guardian’s announcement (210 shares). Clearly, these numbers alone do not full account for what is a very strong day for both publications, though, and there are many more stories which received upwards of 100 shares; quite why we’re seeing such an increase in overall sharing activity this week remains unclear to me, therefore. Perhaps everyone is facing the new year’s news with renewed energy after an extended break?

A second major spike for both publications, on Friday, is due to an ABC News report about a massive gold nugget find near Ballarat (430 shares) and its coverage of the growing bushfire threat in Victoria and New South Wales (240 shares), while the SMH’s total is somewhat inflated by an opinion piece (600 shares) which we’ll get back to below. Its second most linked-to item, strangely enough, is an image from a 2011 piece, of a concept design for what planes may look like in 2050 (340 shares) – due to a single, very widely retweeted message which linked to this image. I’m afraid I can’t explain this one, as the original tweet was in Arabic.

Our opinion and commentary sites and sections show a somewhat more jittery day-to-day pattern, as usual; the daily volume of links to opinion pieces depends so much more on a handful of articles which cut through to a larger audience, as we know. None of them managed to do so during week 1, clearly: remarkably, none of our sites even reached 800 tweets per day, and the total volume of opinion tweets barely made it past 14,000 that week.

ATNIX 1-4/2013: Opinion Sites.

Here, too, things pick up by week 3, which records almost 30,000 tweets linking to opinion pieces. The two Fairfax sites show particular spikes in week 3: on 16 Jan., this is something of a false dawn for the SMH as it once again badges a political news story (about religious discrimination rights, as outlined above) under its National Times banner, but economics editor Peter Martin also contributes with a genuine opinion piece about smart shopping (250 shares). Over at The Age, the discrimination story picks up another 380 shares, while smartly accompanying this with a syndicated op-ed by former US President Jimmy Carter, criticising any form of discrimination due to religious prejudices (260 shares). This turns out to be something of a slow burner: two days later, it’s still leading The Age’s opinion links (with 190 shares that day), followed by 150 shares for a Richard Ackland piece on the James Ashby affair.

The Age also shows a significant spike on the final day of our four weeks, but this, too, is a National Times-badged piece of political reporting – covering Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi’s membership in a far right US lobby group (300 shares) – which really shouldn’t be counted as an opinion piece. Remarkably, if we ignored this article, Jimmy Carter’s op-ed would still lead this day for The Age, by the way – if with a much less impressive 40 additional shares.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that The Conversation had a particularly slow start to the year – perhaps the type of content it covers was especially unlikely to be shared during the post-Christmas lull. By 21 Jan., however, it was back in business again, and even leads the opinion and commentary field on that day. The leading story: a piece on how the NRA and other US gun lobbyists distort Australian crime statistics, which alone received some 370 shares.

So much for now, then – we return in February with more regular updates.

Standard background information: this analysis is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites. For technical reasons, it does not contain ‘button’ retweets, but manual retweets (“RT @user …”) are included. Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (,, are filtered to exclude irrelevant sections of those sites (e.g., For our analysis of ‘opinion’ link sharing, we include only those sub-sections of mainstream sites which contain opinion and commentary (e.g., articles on which include ‘/opinion’ in the URL), and compare them with dedicated opinion and commentary sites.

See the posts tagged ‘ATNIX’ at Mapping Online Publics for a full collection of previous results.