One consequence is that people are able to zero in on the news topics that interest them most, by setting up personalized feeds from their favorite sources about, say, sports and politics. But that also means they're less likely to stumble upon news they're less interested in, such as international affairs.
As people get more news from social media, and those sites look for signals to determine which stories people will be most receptive to, is that a good thing? That depends partly on how savvy the reader is, Gilbert said. Questioning the source of an article has always been important, but readers must now also think about why social sites are presenting them only some news.
Having more options for receiving and discovering personalized content is a good thing, said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute for journalism training. But the shift of advertising dollars to online media has already cut down or eliminated print media that gave consumers news about their communities, he said.
And relying too heavily on a handful of sites like Facebook and Yahoo could leave people at the whims of a particular site's agenda. They're the same concerns people have always had with news media, but the rise of social sites gives the question a new dimension.
It's still early days for social media companies' news delivery mechanisms, and sites might still be working out their own definitions of "news." When news broke this past weekend of the fatal Metro-North train derailing in New York, Twitter's Event Parrot account did not let out a peep, at least for the writer of this article. But when news broke Thursday of Nelson Mandela's death, mobile alerts from both Twitter's Event Parrot and The New York Times came nearly at the same time.
For all their ambitions, Internet giants may not be the news creators of the future, experts said. Yahoo could become a huge news player with its original programming, but there are many other sites singularly focused on producing the news that aren't going away anytime soon, they said.
Internet companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google are more than happy to point users to the news, as long as there is news to be had, said Harvard's Benton. Internet firms probably won't become the primary creators of news, but they will make money from it as they can. "Twitter would rather have an ad appear next to a news company's tweet, than have an ad pop up on The New York Times' site," he said.