Oct 6, 2014 · 3 minutes

As the Internet opened up the publishing world to anybody with a laptop and an opinion, there was a sense, particularly during the early days of blogging, that the old journalistic gatekeepers had finally been vanquished. An underwear-clad blogger was using the same platform and pixels as the New York Times. And despite the fact that the Times' reputation gave it a built-in audience, social media was a democratizing force giving anybody a shot at success.

But Internet idealists were quickly relieved of those fantasies, as the web grew out of adolescence into a medium that everyday looks more and more like the old platforms, dominated by brands and advertising dollars. The only difference is that a new group of gatekeepers has arisen, and they don't work for CBS or Conde Nast.

They work for Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Facebook's algorithms are continually tweaked to surface "engaging" content that, if we think about it in relation to the company's ultimate goals, are selected in order to optimize the network as an ad delivery system, promoting light, clickable content. After all, investigative pieces about war atrocities abroad or dismal American prison conditions don't exactly make users want to click on a Bonobos ad. Publishers who want to see a boost from Facebook can also pay the company to promote their posts, but that's cold comfort to smaller news organizations with severely-constrained budgets.

YouTube, on the other hand, is spending huge sums to promote select creators like VICE News. That partnership alone is good for journalism, but VICE is a unique case because its content appeals to not just newshounds but also millennials, who are the next generation of consumers and a tasty carrot for advertisers.

And then there's LinkedIn. Its gatekeeping isn't done by robots or business development teams. It's done by a small group of human beings. And today, Digiday's John McDermott published a long profile of the guy who leads that influential cadre of editors: LinkedIn Executive Editor Dan Roth. Or, as McDermott calls him, "the most powerful man in business journalism."

That may sound like a hyperbole to anyone outside of tech and business reporting, but it's not too far off. Each week, Roth and his team handpick a tiny number of stories to feature on the professional social network. Having seen firsthand what such placement can do to drive traffic to a Pando story, Roth's power is real. Adam Penenberg's phenomenal Pando piece on allowing himself to get "hacked" would have likely been a big story no matter what, by virtue of it being extremely good. But when LinkedIn placed the headline in view of its 300 million members, Penenberg's story literally broke Chartbeat, the software we use to analyze traffic.

With such a small number of stories selected, and a keen eye for what content will appeal most to LinkedIn's community of business professionals, LinkedIn has created a distribution platform that in the world of business reporting is rivaled only by the frontpage of Reddit.

Some might bristle at the power one small team on a public tech company can wield over the success of a piece of journalism. And as pointed out by Roth, formerly an editor at Fortune magazine, many of his old journalistic colleagues viewed him as a sell-out after jumping ship for LinkedIn.

But considering the distribution strength of networks like LinkedIn, shouldn't journalists want one of their own pulling the strings? Here at Pando, getting a shoutout from LinkedIn's editorial team, which has such strong taste and discretion, is more than just a traffic boost. It's a form of recognition that, while dangerous to put too much stock in, means that our story resonated with somebody who deeply understands our readership. Compare that to Facebook, where a huge boost feels more like a happy accident -- we don't create a whole lot of content with Facebook's quiz- and list-happy algorithms in mind. (In Facebook's defense, it's working to cut down on the amount of "clickbait" its algorithms surface).

It would be fatalistic to say publishers have completely ceded the power of distribution over to social networks. There's a great deal news organizations can do build an audience organically -- not least of which is to produce amazing journalism. But it's also naive to underestimate the role tech firms play in popularizing some stories over others. With that in mind, wouldn't you rather have smart journalists like Roth making those calls instead of robots and suits?