17/12/2009 - 00:00

Reflections on the year that was

17/12/2009 - 00:00


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There are big news stories, and there are issues that really get our readers fired up.

ONE of the great things about reporting news on the internet is that we know exactly what articles people are reading.

This is a big change from the old days of newspapers, when journalists and editors were never really sure if their articles were striking a chord with the public.

Anecdotal feedback was, at best, an imperfect guide.

Looking back at the past 12 months, WA Business News readers have shown keen interest in the momentous decisions that have reshaped the state’s economy.

The biggest story of the year, judging by page views on www.wabusinessnews.com.au, was in June, when BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto announced plans to combine their Pilbara iron ore assets into a joint venture.

At the same time, Rio announced that its alliance with Chinese group Chinalco had been terminated.

These announcements had profound implications, not just for the mining industry in WA, but for the global business community, as they signalled a hardening in the relationship between two of the world’s biggest mining companies and their largest and fastest-growing customer.

Other big stories were a mix of very good and very bad news.

September 14 was marked by the formal go-ahead of the Gorgon liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.

There had been wild speculation in the lead-up about just how big the project would be. Premier Colin Barnett suggested it would cost $50 billion to build – the final figure was smaller, at $43 billion, but that still made it the single largest investment decision in Australia’s history.

That announcement helped to erase memories of the bad news early in the year, none more so than BHP’s January announcement that it was shutting its newly built Ravensthorpe nickel project and laying off up to 2,000 workers.

The federal and state governments’ response to the global financial crisis was another topic that attracted keen interest from our readers, especially when big numbers were thrown into the mix.

The fourth biggest article of the year was in February, when Treasurer Wayne Swan announced a $42 billion stimulus package.

Like Gorgon, the numbers were staggering, but in contrast to that private sector resources project, many people questioned the wisdom of throwing so much money at short-term stimulus spending.

Unlike most industrial countries, Australia avoided going into recession during 2009, but the price was massive spending that will need to be repaid by taxpayers in future years.

Perth’s love affair with property was borne out by reader statistics. The fifth biggest story of the year was in May, when a study concluded that seven Perth suburbs had fallen off the ‘rich list’ – meaning their median house price had fallen below $1 million.

The stock market and the Australian dollar experienced wild swings during 2009 but it was fluctuations in Perth property values that really sparked reader interest.

The long-awaited ruling on the Bell Group litigation was our sixth most popular article for the year.

The dispute between the Bell Group liquidator and a Westpac-led banking consortium dated back to the dying days of Alan Bond’s corporate empire, in the early 1990s.

The liquidator won a $1.5 billion payout, which will help to cover his mammoth legal fees, but the dispute is continuing with appeals under way.

Erstwhile accountant turned footloose mining entrepreneur Michael Minosora may be surprised to learn there is big interest from our readers in his movements.

Mr Minosora featured twice in our top 10 articles: in January when he exited Azure Capital to join Andrew Forrest at Fortescue Metals Group; and in September when he left FMG to run junior exploration company Atlantic.

Data on page views is one measure of public interest.

Another measure is the number of letters and emails written by our readers.

On that score, there were two issues that stood head and shoulders above all others – daylight saving and retail trading hours.

Judging by the correspondence we received, WA Business News readers are strongly in favour of change on both scores. They enjoyed daylight saving while it lasted and they want the freedom to shop in the evenings and on Sundays.



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