Mobile and social media trends make journalism and technology strange bedfellows. 

But news organizations can figure out how to define their relationships with social media platforms. They can look to the liminal (in-between) press for insights.

"The phrase 'liminal press' is meant to capture this new, intermediary space that is part journalism, part technology," Mike Ananny, assistant professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, wrote in an email. "If you care about the future of the press as a democratic institution, you need to speak the languages of both."

Recent studies shed light on two trends that highlight this need for communication between journalists and software designers.

Newspapers' mobile audience is expanding

Those who use only mobile devices to consume newspaper digital content increased 53% in March 2015 from the same month a year ago, according to a report from NAA.

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) found that about 60% of smartphone owners routinely use smartphone news apps. About 40% of the smartphone owners who use smartphone news apps use smartphone newspaper apps, according to a 2014 RJI Mobile Media Survey report. 

As more people turn to their mobile devices for news, it is important for newspapers to consider how news app design shapes ways for reading and sharing content. 

Facebook is playing a bigger role as a news gatekeeper

Facebook study this month confirmed that the media people consume on the site is affected by what their friends share and how the News Feed algorithm sorts the content. But it found that the effect is smaller than some media watchers have feared.

On Wednesday, Facebook launched Instant Articles, enabling publishers to create articles on the site. The social network is working with nine publishers, ranging from digital-only to traditional news outlets.

As Facebook evolves, it is important to keep an eye on how the site affects exposure to ideologically diverse news. 

The liminal press is emerging

These trends point to the growing impact of mobile and social media platforms on news circulation and consumption. A way to gain insights into this impact is to look at the liminal press.

Ananny and Kate Crawford coined "liminal press" in a paper that appeared in Digital Journalism last year. They described how the liminal press occupies a space between journalism and technology design. 

"Worlds like editorial decision-making and algorithmic design, or news judgment and Web traffic analytics that used to be separable are now becoming intertwined," Ananny said. "If we think about software design and journalism as distinct or independent, we'll miss seeing the power that exists at their intersection." 

An understanding of the liminal press can help newspapers have meaningful conversations with software designers who work outside their organizations. 

"The people who make Facebook, Google, Twitter and reddit — as well as the ecosystem of mobile news app aggregators — are all far too powerful for news organizations to ignore," Ananny said. "For editorial values and news ethics to appear within these systems, news organizations must translate their beliefs about what news should be into the companies and design cultures producing social media systems — what news practically is becoming online."

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