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More than half of news website traffic comes from search engines/social media: AUT research

Thursday 6th September 2018

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New Zealand news organisations depend on search engines and social media - mainly Google and Facebook - for around 53 percent of the total traffic to their websites, according to research by the Auckland University of Technology's Research Centre for Journalism, Media, and Democracy.

But that's less than the reliance overseas. The report finds the amount of content posted to social media by New Zealand news organisations is relatively low by international standards, although the influence of multi-national giants on news distribution here is still substantial.

The study is the first research of its kind to try to pin down how dependent New Zealand news producers have become on social media. 

It also suggests that a lack of political focus on the impact of search engines and social media on traditional news businesses is effectively letting Google and Facebook off the hook in New Zealand.

While the two giants have established initiatives in other markets to encourage the production of journalism, "largely to avoid regulation", there have been no such efforts in New Zealand, the report's author, Merja Myllylahti, said.

"Despite claims made to the Commerce Commission (in submissions from would-be merger partners NZME and Fairfax New Zealand/Stuff) that Google and Facebook pose a serious threat to local journalism, there is to date no policy response or inquiries," she said. "Yet the impact of Google and Facebook on the traditional news business model, especially in terms of advertising but also in terms of readership, is significant and disruptive."

Myllylahti found Facebook was responsible for about 25 percent of news website traffic "and therefore cannot be ignored as a significant player in New Zealand's ecosystem".

Facebook ignored questions put to it for the research project, while Google confirmed it had no journalistic initiatives underway in New Zealand.

Myllylahti warned that the research was based on datasets provided by two firms - SimilarWeb and BirdSong Analytics - in the absence of publicly available data about news companies' engagement with and distribution through Google and Facebook.

"The lack of transparency is hindering our understanding of the relations between new companies and platforms." 

Analysis of website traffic for the New Zealand Herald, Stuff, Newshub, TVNZ, and The Spinoff revealed direct traffic was still the main source of traffic for the Herald, Stuff, and TVNZ, with an average of 42 percent of their traffic coming direct.

However, Newshub gained most of its traffic from Google, while The Spinoff gained most from social media.

An examination of engagement with news content on Facebook during the month of January suggests a far higher level of shares and 'likes' for Herald posts than for its direct competitor Stuff's. This is despite the Herald's daily average number of posts, at 10.83, being slightly below Stuff's average of 11.44.

A total of 4.5 million 'likes' on Herald posts in January eclipsed Stuff's 1.9 million 'likes', while Herald stories were shared more than 1.5 million times, three times the level of shares for Stuff posts. 


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