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Summary:

Twitter’s hiring of editorial staff to curate real-time information around news events through “hashtag pages” may not be a direct competitor for media companies, but the areas of overlap are growing — and so is its attractiveness to the advertisers that media entities desperately need.

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As we’ve mentioned a number of times, Twitter has been gradually tip-toeing further and further into the media business for some time now. It has already become a real-time newswire for many, a source of breaking news and commentary on live events, and now — with the launch of curated “hashtag pages” like the one it launched late last week for a NASCAR event — it is showing signs of becoming a full-fledged editorial operation. It may not be hiring investigative reporters, but the areas of overlap between what it does and what media companies do is growing, and so is its attractiveness to the advertisers that media entities desperately need to hang onto.

The NASCAR page may not seem like anything to be concerned about, since it appears to be just a typical grouping of tweets collected by hashtag. But there is editorial control behind it as well as algorithms, with an editor choosing which messages — including photos, videos and commentary from NASCAR insiders — were highlighted during the event, and which streamed by unacknowledged. And Twitter has made it clear that this kind of effort is not aimed primarily at brands (although it almost certainly will involve them at some point) but is intended for events. In other words, for the news.

Twitter is curating information, just as media companies do

It’s easy to imagine a similar page constructed around a revolution in Libya, or an earthquake in Japan, or virtually any other news event. Would that be something that media companies could use to their advantage, or a competing service, or both? In some ways, it could be a much better, crowd-sourced version of Google News. Twitter’s efforts have at least one staffer at a mainstream media outlet concerned — in a blog post, Thomson Reuters digital strategist Ross Neumann says:

Twitter revolutionized journalism once before, and news organizations responded with the social media editor. Now it seems that the social media editor, the reaction to disruption, could be a victim of it.

Is Twitter trying to put media companies out of business, or even social-media editors? Probably not, at least not directly. But in a way, it’s formal intentions don’t really even matter — it could easily wind up doing so by accident, in the same way that Craig Newmark accidentally decimated one of the main cash cows of the media industry when he disrupted the classified advertising business. That wasn’t his intention at all, but he accomplished it nevertheless.

Twitter clearly sees itself as a partner for media companies, which is probably part of the reason that CEO Dick Costolo often denies that the company is a media entity at all. And there’s no question that using Twitter has been a boon for the media — it allows reporters and writers to reach a much broader audience, it enables them to build their personal brand through direct engagement with readers, and so on. And new hires like editor Mark Luckie describe their jobs as helping media companies do that better:

A partner can quickly become a competitor

That’s all well and good, but there comes a point where a partner can start to look like a competitor if you tilt your head the right way, and I would argue that Twitter is nearing that point. Facebook is also a partner for media companies who use it to host their comments, or have brand pages there, or rely on the social network to promote their work through “frictionless sharing” apps. But at times it can seem as much like competition — particularly for users’ attention — as it does a partner.

That’s part of what I think blogging pioneer Dave Winer means when he warns that media companies should not see Twitter as their friend. To the extent that Twitter is offering news consumers of all kinds access to the information they want — regardless of whether that information consists of “user-generated content” or links to other media outlets — it is a competitor. And to the extent that it can offer better curation or aggregation or filtering or targeting of that content, it will win.

And that kind of targeting isn’t just a threat to the information-management or journalistic aspects of the traditional media industry, as is every other digital-native media source such as The Huffington Post or Buzzfeed. It is also an arrow that is directed at the heart of the financial underpinnings of the traditional media business — namely, advertising.

Twitter is already trying to get better at targeting and curation of topics and content, whether through its new “tailored trends” or the emails it now sends out that are powered by its Summify acquisition of earlier this year. Those skills — and the benefit of hosted curation like the NASCAR event — are just as applicable to advertising messages as they are to any other content, if not more so. And that type of targeting is the thing that newspapers and other mainstream media outlets are not good at (to put it mildly). Anyone who is better is clearly a threat.

So partnering with Twitter, and using its tools and services as much as possible, makes a huge amount of sense for media companies — but so does maintaining a healthy scepticism about who is getting the majority of the benefit from those services, and how.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Rosauro Ochoa

  1. Steve Ardire Tuesday, June 12, 2012

    Yup agree and esp. when it comes to breaking and trending news ( now with better discovery ) Twitter kicks traditional media’s collective butts ;)

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  2. Darren Bounds Tuesday, June 12, 2012

    This headline belongs in 2009.

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  3. Couldn’t agree more with you! When it comes to breaking news, it stands out. And now with the curated hashtag page, Twitter can give competition to other traditional news outlets.

    Frequently, Third party app developers were kicked by Twitter by adding new features on its service. So, I think Twitter can kick mainstream media anytime, and become a Media company.

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  4. I hardly visit any news sites anymore unless somebody on Twitter is pointing me there.

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  5. What this means is that traditional media has to go more on the route of quality content creation with well thought out commentary & expert analysis, instead of just “breaking” news and “curating” content. News is a commodity. Analysis is not.

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  6. Probably is a matter of genarations, but in my case (I’m 48) I just entered once to Twitter to find out scarce ideas in a dynamic-unlinked paragraphs. As an advertiser of course I would be present there “just if” and to reach the new generations, but if my brand is luxury I would take care of my target who would be -by age and purchasing power- in traditional media, no doubt.

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  7. Journalists need to look at what happened to Encyclopedias – The publishers didn’t find a way to change their revenue model away from selling the physical “book” to selling the “information”.
    Journalists need to proove that their information delivery has higher value than the citizen reporters on the ground.
    I wrote a series of blog posts about the impact of Social Media on Democracy and Journalism ( http://tweet4ok.com/news/ )

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  8. I’m curious about the criteria Twitter uses to “filter” and “curate.” Traditional media already uses filtered and curated streams such as AP and Reuters, so having another biased stream wouldn’t be anything new for them. The most interesting thing about the twitter stream is that it hasn’t been filtered. I’d rather just look at the raw hashtag stream and curate for myself. I hope the raw stream will still be available. For me “classic” Twitter has two benefits, I can see what everyone is saying and I can join the conversation with the same chance of being heard as anyone else.

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    1. Well said! One suspects that the curation of a cluster of related hashtags might well be auctioned off to another publisher. Twitter itself might then be a meta-publisher, and other publishers would vie for the right to be seen participating in, possibly spinning, the hashtag stream.

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  9. What is also happening is that reporters who submerse themselves in the twitter world are effectively becoming virtual publications which have little or no connections with the media organizations said reporters work for. For a good example Matthew compare the twitter output and references of your old colleague at the Globe and Mail Andre Picard with what the paper produces. See @picardonhealth. Following Andre will tell you more about what’s daily hopping in medicine than reading the newspaper in either its print or on-line format. So in a kind of perverse way what Andre’s tweets teach people is: Don’t Read The Globe And Mail.

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    1. Twitter is no more a legitimate source of news than the neighborhood gossip. Forcing newspaper executives and editorial chiefs that this is the only way to get breaking news to readers is all part of the game to undermine real journalism, to reduce the information to the public to a few abbreviated phrases, to keep people from seeing thoroughly vetted and investigated stories. Forcing reporters to set up a Twitter account and immerse themselves in the practice of tweeting just adds more work to an already beleaguered section of the print media workforce. If editors are so gung-ho about feeding the less intelligent people with tweets then perhaps the editors should do it themselves and leave real journalism to reporters. The last time I checked the editors aren’t in the field, on the phone with sources, interviewing disaster victims, etc. Editors are the ones with spare time.

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