Update: The @ClarenceHouse account announced that a baby boy was born at 4:24 p.m. local time in a series of five tweets. Here's the first one.
Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4.24pm— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) July 22, 2013
The royal birth is nearly upon us, and instead of keeping the details of Kate Middleton's hospital admission tightly under wraps, Buckingham Palace is updating public and paparazzi alike on Twitter.
The Twitter account for Clarence House, an official source of news about Prince Charles, Kate, William and Prince Harry, tweeted that the duchess of Cambridge had gone into the early stages of labor this morning. It was retweeted by the official @BritishMonarchy account.
Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge has been admitted to St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London in the early stages of labour.— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) July 22, 2013
It followed up with a tweet noting that Kate had traveled by car from Kensington Palace.
The Duchess travelled by car from Kensington Palace to the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital with The Duke of Cambridge.— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) July 22, 2013
The use of Twitter to narrate the sequence of events leading up to the delivery looks like a way to protect the royal family's privacy. If the updates are disseminated via Twitter like so many bread crumbs for the hungry media, then perhaps the paparazzi's zeal to break the news of every pregnancy-related development becomes less menacing, since news outlets are more apt to have the same information at the same instant. News of Kate's pregnancy was also announced on the @ClarenceHouse account.
Reporters were told last month that news of the birth would be delivered via Twitter, but that it would not be the first channel for the news to drop. A paper signed by the attending obstetricians with the baby's sex, weight and time of birth will be posted on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, and then an "electronic press release" will be sent out.
According to a royal spokesman: "It is very important that it will not be announced first on Twitter, although it will be announced on Twitter in due course."
The usage of Twitter to disseminate news also has an interesting effect on the culture of celebrity news gathering. It's effectively turning celebrity reporters who historically needed to be aggressive in the cultivation of anonymous sources into desk reporters who grab material from a wire -- in this case Twitter -- to produce a story. A similar phenomenon is afoot in sports media, where reporters increasingly turn to Twitter to source quotes from athletes.
The royal family is all-too-familiar with the potential dangers inherent in a news gathering frenzy. Princess Diana would be becoming a royal grandmother had she not been killed in an auto accident in 1997 after her driver tried to escape pursuing paparazzi.