Modern journalism is in a state of rapid development. The technology and communications channels available both to media outlets and consumers have devastated the printed news industry, and now it seems that further developments could jeopardize the existence of organic journalism altogether. On one front, you have artificial intelligence programs capable of writing news stories indistinguishable from those of human writers. On the other hand, you have an unlikely emerging competitor, far removed from the world of journalism—Twitter.
Already, social media platforms have begun to encroach on news companies’ territory. Users are relying on the posts that show up on their news feeds more than any particular news source, though those posts currently still originate on respective news sources. As a result, direct traffic to news sources has lagged, but overall, they’ve still received enough traffic to stay afloat. New advances by Twitter, however, may change that.
The Acquisition of Periscope
The revolution started with Twitter’s acquisition of the social app Periscope, which allows users to broadcast live, first-person video to a dedicated audience. At first, the integration seemed straightforward enough—Twitter users like to make updates about their life in real time, so why not give them an application to broadcast video of their lives in real time? But consider the origins of Periscope; the app was originally inspired by a particular incident in Istanbul involving the founders. The founders found themselves in the middle of a group of protestors and police, a situation that could have been avoided if there were some way to “see through the eyes” of others in the area. Essentially, it serves as a live news update as much as it does a social update.
The Dawn of Project Lightning
Twitter either became inspired by this acquisition or the acquisition was a part of their original long-term plan. Regardless of its origins, Project Lightning is beginning to emerge. Project Lightning is a new feature for the Twitter app, but according to former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, it represents a major shift in the company’s direction. The project has been in development for years, and seeks to change how people consume news online—when it launches, presumably in the next year or two, it will be called “Moments.”
Project Lightning’s goal is to automatically aggregate data it finds within the updates of its users. For example, if there are protests going on in Istanbul, the app would be able to collect the most relevant pictures, live feeds, and posts about the event and organize them in a way that makes it easy for other users to see exactly what’s going on. It’s a form of user-curated news content that cuts out the journalistic “middle men” and instead connects users directly to the events as they unfold.
Though details about the feature are still being kept under wraps, we do know that the feature will be a key point on the home row of the app.
The Acquisition of Flipboard?
While nothing has been finalized, Twitter is also looking to acquire Flipboard, a news aggregation app with more than 100 million activated users. It’s entirely speculation at this point, but it appears that Twitter’s acquisition history is forming a pattern. Gradually, Twitter aims to improve its ability to create and distribute news among its user base. Already, Twitter’s greatest advantage lies in its ability to connect people in the moment, and if it continues taking on the news industry, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes dominant.
Of course, the relationship between social media channels and news outlets hasn’t gone unnoticed by the other major players in the arena. For example, Facebook recently announced a program called Instant Articles, where news outlets can publish pieces directly to Facebook rather than their own sites. This is Facebook’s own way of cutting out the journalistic middle man, but rather than cutting out the actual journalist, Facebook is only cutting out the journalist platform. The modern chain of communication is something like User > Social Platform > News Outlet > Journalist > Actual Event. Comparatively, Facebook’s Instant Articles would offer a setup like User > Facebook > Journalist > Actual Event while Twitter would offer something like User > Twitter > Actual Event.
Theoretically, the shorter this chain is, the more accurate and more up-to-date the “reporting” will be. In this way, Twitter’s plan is more forward-thinking than Facebook’s, but the competition will still be fierce.
The Future of Journalism
No matter how Facebook, Twitter, other social platforms, and artificial intelligence algorithms interpret online content, the world of journalism is in for a significant overhaul over the next five years. For human journalists, the future may seem bleak, but for the average consumer, the potential results are promising. We could soon live in an age where we can be connected to live events, directly and instantly, with the only biases stemming from a constantly fine-tuned mechanical algorithm. On the surface, it’s a little unsettling, but as we get used to the idea, we’ll learn to appreciate it for all the benefits it has to offer.