News sharing on Twitter in 2012 was dominated by broadsheet content with Fairfax and the ABC outstripping News Limited, while independents such as The Conversation succeeded in breaking the big publisher stranglehold on opinion content.
The Sydney Morning Herald sparked the greatest number of tweets in the last six months of 2012, both in the news and opinion categories analysed in the Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX), an ongoing study conducted by Dr Axel Bruns of Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
The ABC’s news sites followed, commanding the second highest number of tweets during the six-month period, followed by Fairfax’s The Age, leading Dr Bruns to suggest Twitter users skew to urban, educated, affluent users, matching the typical audience for “quality news content”.
News’ broadsheet publication The Australian, stifled by its paywall, ranked in fifth spot with a minimal share of tweets compared to the top tier of publications.
“The strong performance of Fairfax’s two metropolitan broadsheets, and of Australia’s leading public service media organisation, suggests that Twitter user demographics remain skewed to the traditional audiences for relatively quality, broadsheet news, rather than for tabloid content as provided, for example, by News Ltd’s papers Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph,” writes Dr Bruns, associate professor in creative industries at QUT.
According to Bruns’ analysis, the Sydney Morning Herald accounted for around one in five tweets containing links to a news site, while the ABC’s news-related websites claimed 18%. The pair clearly led the pack for news content, between them accounting for well over a third of all tweeted links, with around 25,000 to 30,000 links to their sites tweeted each week.
The Age and news.com.au constitute a second tier of sites in terms of links shared, each commanding some 10% of the total volume of tweets. Between them, the top four sites own nearly 60% of all Australian news links being shared by Twitter users.
The remaining major news sources, led by The Australian and the two major tabloids – the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph – failed to claim more than 7% of volume. None managed to advance beyond 10,000 tweets per week on a regular basis, and the majority struggled to reach the 5000 tweet mark.
Spikes in news sharing occurred around WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, ABC journalist Leigh Sales’s confrontational 7.30 interview with the opposition leader Tony Abbot and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now famous ‘misogyny’ speech in parliament, which made international headlines and earnt the ABC 6300 tweets over the course of two days.
While the concentration of media ownership in Australia was telling for news content, opinion content was a more open playing field with minor commentary sites able to break through with a major story at times.
Once again though, the Sydney Morning Herald was the dominant publication, commanding 23% of tweets with links to opinion content.
The Age placed second with a 14% share, beating out independent academic opinion site The Conversation by a slim margin of fewer than 2000 tweets over the past six months. Another independent, online-only opinion site, Crikey, rounds out the top four, with a share of 10%.
Against this, the ABC and News Ltd sites, home to notable commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman and Miranda Devine are comparatively absent, with blogs.news.com.au garnering only 7% of the total volume of tweets, while the ABC’s The Drum managed 5%. The Australian captured only 4%, again limited by its paywall.
“What’s more remarkable about the opinion and commentary field, however, is that – contrary to the mainstream of news reporting – it is possible for minor commentary sites to break through with a major story at times,” Dr Bruns points out. “New Matilda and Independent Australia both reached Crikey and even Conversation territory at least for a couple of weeks each during the past six months.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s domination of Twitter volume mirrors its command over news website traffic, with an average of 2.27 million unique visitors landing on the masthead’s site per week during the third quarter of 2012, according to Roy Morgan Research. Its closest competitor was the Herald Sun with an average of 1.34 million uniques per week.
The 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 (although it does not include‘button’ retweets, for technical reasons).
A total of over 3.9 million tweets which included links to Australian news sites – an average of some 140,000 tweets per week over the six months and two weeks between 8 June and 30 December 2012 were analysed. In addition, ATNIX tracked 580,000 tweets containing links to opinion articles.