Twitter, the protector of news?

Head of News, Vivian Schiller, reveals some of the thinking behind Twitter's news ambitions

As Twitter rings in the new year, it's got some big ideas for expanding its audience by forging more news partnerships.

The social network is already a major platform for news distribution, but now Twitter is looking to amp up those efforts, partly through media partnerships. On Tuesday, Twitter's recently hired head of news, Vivian Schiller, offered some thoughts about why those partnerships are important, and what Twitter's hoping to do with them.

Schiller's hiring was announced in October. The 26-year news veteran was scooped up from NBC News to help Twitter become a bigger destination for news and to expand its advertising revenue by ushering in more media deals. Those partnerships, Schiller suggested in a blog post, could be good not just for Twitter, but also for journalism's survival.

Traditional news companies have struggled to adapt their businesses to keep up with the pace of the Internet, especially on mobile. One reason why the traditional news companies' move to digital media has been slow is that legacy platforms including radio, print and broadcast TV still generate most of their revenue, Schiller said.

"The cash cow must be protected," Schiller said in a LinkedIn post. However, the legacy platforms pay for forms of journalism such as foreign and investigative stories that digital startups might not be able to afford, she said.

One question brought to fore by the digital age is whether Twitter and other Internet companies are trying to compete with traditional news outlets. Schiller, however, seems to view the industries' interests as being complementary.

"In my new job, I'll get to work with old and new friends at news organizations to find ways for them to reach a bigger audience via Twitter," she said. The media-partnering responsibilities she has held at places like NBC News, NPR and The New York Times have been geared toward finding ways to disrupt traditional strategies, "but not destroy," she said.

Schiller said she would serve as Twitter's "in-house evangelist for what journalists and consumers need from the product," working toward the broader goal of positioning Twitter as a tool for keeping people informed.

The job represents new terrain for Schiller. "What if instead of being the digital person in a media company I should be the media person in a tech company?" she said. "Could those same relationships work in reverse?"

For it to work, Twitter also needs to strike a balance between expanding its platform without cannibalizing the advertising revenue of its media partners.

Now a public company, Twitter is focused on building new partnerships to scale out its business and turn a profit. "We plan to continue to leverage our media relationships to drive more content distribution on our platform and create more value for our users and advertisers," Twitter said in its recent IPO filing.

In addition to Twitter, companies like Yahoo and Facebook are also positioning some of their services as digital newspapers. In Facebook's case, certain user preferences, like the pages they follow, are being used to make news content appear more prominently on the site. But measuring the value of news based on such digital signals can be is tricky, so it's important for people to question how Internet companies judge newsworthiness, industry experts have said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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