Why Twitter Will Never Be a News Organization

7 minute read

Twitter’s head of news Vivian Schiller spoke with TIME about Twitter, Facebook, news discovery and more in an exclusive first interview since she left NBC News and took on the role in January. A few key insights? She says retweets are underutilized, and Twitter needs to find a way to give news organizations better analytics. Speaking of news organizations, Schiller says Twitter will never be one: “[W]e don’t have any reporters, and we don’t have any editors, and we’re never going to have those.” Below is a lightly edited transcript of TIME’s conversation with Schiller:

TIME: One of the main issues for journalists is this idea of differentiating between news and things that are a hoax. How can Twitter make it easier for journalists to figure out whether something is verified or not?

SCHILLER: We have verified accounts, but a verified account doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the information contained within — the tweet from the verified user — is verified. And Twitter’s never going to be able to do that, with all of the billions of tweets that flow, there’s no way for us to know. But one of the things that we can do, and should do, and is definitely on my roadmap is to — because we hear this from a lot of news organizations — is to try to be a thought leader for the news industry about this. Not that we can solve it, but to help inform news organizations…So it’s a common question, and I think we can help socialize best practices around using Twitter to verify information. We do have certain tools. Dataminr, for instance, is one that doesn’t verify the tweet, but it gives you certain signals around individual tweets that can help. And we see a lot of news organizations that are doing interesting things, so that’s one of the things we want to do is try to help news organizations make sure that they can signal to their followers and try to reverse hoaxes, or reduce hoaxes, to the extent possible. Not just hoaxes, but misinformation — unintentional misinformation. One of the great things about Twitter is that even without our intervention, the fact is because so many people are listening on Twitter, that misinformation gets caught pretty quickly. So the Twitter crowd itself — the wisdom of the crowd plays in here. The more people are on Twitter, the more misinformation will be corrected with great speed.

TIME: So Twitter has been experimenting with sending users breaking news updates through @EventParrot, [@MagicRecs], putting updates at the top of the timeline [via the Discovery Tab], etc. In the future, do you think that there will be a proper way to inform users that news is breaking and show it comes from an authoritative source? Is that sort of what’s tied to the Dataminr partnership?

SCHILLER: Yeah, I mean this is something that just in my short time here I feel like the entire organization is really focused on, which is how to help people — how to surface the most useful content to people. What’s useful to them. So, you’ve seen a lot of useful experimentation coming out of Twitter, and I think based on my short time here, I think there’s going to be a lot of really interesting developments to help with discovery.

TIME: Do you think Twitter will start to look a little bit more like a curated news reading experience, similar to how Facebook is experimenting with Paper?

SCHILLER: I’m glad you asked that, because one thing I want to make sure is really clear: The Twitter news team is never going to pick and choose news stories, pick and choose winners. That’s not our job at all. But what we need to do is make the product — as an organization — and this involves not just the news team but the product team and everyone — is to make it easier for news organizations but also for our consumers to find what they’re looking for. We need to understand better what people think they’re looking for and surface it for them. So I guess that’s a short answer to say: Watch this space.

TIME: We heard on the earnings call that user growth in the U.S. is slowing. What role can news play in helping Twitter attract new users and onboarding people?

SCHILLER: Twitter has so profoundly changed the way that I consume news. The way that I consume news, the way that I engage news, the way that I discover news, the way that, frankly, I report news even just as a broadcast of information from my own life, whether it’s news to somebody is for them to decide. One of the things that I was excited about, coming to Twitter, was because news is already so central to the Twitter experience, but I wanted to come so that I can help work with the team to try to make it even more so. And all the things we were talking about just a minute ago, which is ways that news organizations can help get their news out there, ways that news organizations can discover tweets in the wild that they can then report on or discover trends, ways that Twitter can develop products and experiments that will help people discover information. All of those things are going to lead to greater user growth, ultimately. So our path, or the role of the news team, is to support news organizations, which in the end supports consumers, which in the end is good for the news industry, good for journalists, good for news organizations, and of course good for Twitter, and it will lead to user growth. If I had to say one of the most important goals, it would be the best quality content on Twitter, because that will lead not only to user growth but more engaged users.

TIME: What role do you see Twitter playing versus Facebook in terms of being a traffic provider to publishers?

SCHILLER: Well I don’t particularly want to comment about Facebook, but I’ll talk about Twitter. We know that Twitter is driving a tremendous amount of traffic to news organizations. But I want to emphasize that that’s not the sole value that Twitter brings to a news organization, that is one element of it. One element is, yes, referrals which lead to traffic. But just as important, and we do hear this from news organizations, is the value, and again I’m going to repeat the same thing, the value of Twitter. Twitter uniquely provides value to news organizations at every stage of the news cycle. Twitter uniquely can be a broadcaster for the eyewitness who sees news breaking in his neighborhood. Twitter uniquely can be a place where journalists can source and reach out to eyewitnesses or corroborating sources to try to report their story. Twitter uniquely can engage in real-time exchanges, live exchanges with their users. Twitter uniquely can incentivize users to be with them at every stage of the news reporting, news distribution and follow-up stages. To me, that’s who we are. We are not just a referral engine, although certainly we want to help news organizations with referrals as well. And I didn’t even mention monetization, which through the Amplify program and other things that might be coming down the pike, we can be more and more.

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