June 18, 2015


The last few weeks have seen the continued upheaval of a news distribution model that was already in a state of flux. In May, Facebook rolled out its Instant Articles program, marking the first time that news organizations published content within the social network. Earlier this month, Apple unveiled its News app, a news reader that will feature content curated by editorial professionals.

And now comes word, via BuzzFeed’s Mat Honan, that Twitter is preparing to launch Project Lightning, a feature that would showcase real-time information feeds relating to ongoing events. For example, if you want to view a stream of relevant tweets related to the Super Bowl, you will be able to press a new button and scrub back and forth to view 140-character bulletins organized in chronological order. Those feeds will be curated by a team of people that have “newsroom experience,” Honan writes:

They’ll use data tools to comb through events and understand emerging trends, and pluck the best content from the ocean of updates flowing across Twitter’s servers. But human beings will decide which tweets to include.

He notes that this product puts Twitter, which has itself undergone some disruption recently, in a quasi-editorial role for the first time since the social network’s inception in 2006. Taken together with the developments listed above, it’s clear that each of these companies is playing an increasing role in mediating the news that comes to us through their products.

This shift was noted earlier this month by Frédéric Filloux, the Paris-based media blogger behind “Monday Note.” In his post, he included a graphic that has been shared widely on social media that puts tech companies between news consumers and news producers on a flowchart representing news distribution. He describes it in an accompanying passage:

No doubt: We’re heading towards a new phase of massive re-intermediation, of reshuffling the layers between the news producers (traditional media houses or pure players) and readers. This raises important questions: What will publishers gain or lose in the process? Will they end up handcuffed to a cluster of gatekeepers or will they reap decisive gains for their business model.

Who becomes the dominant player in this new structure?

That still remains to be seen. But today’s news that Twitter is embracing its role as a curator points toward a trend that is only likely to continue.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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