It would appear that an earthquake was just felt across the UK (hopefully not a major one!). Where did the news first break? Well, we heard about it over Twitter. It’s all over the site, including being broken on Twitter-based news organization BreakingNewsOn, which is reporting a 5.3 magnitude earthquake in the UK with minimal damage reported so far. Where didn’t we hear about the quake? The mainstream press.

This story broke over Twitter in the past half hour, and nothing is up yet on the BBC sites, the Guardian, or the Telegraph. This story is breaking live on Twitter.

That’s something we’ve been seeing more and more of recently. During the California wildfires last fall, we saw Twitter and other citizen journalism tools being used by people who were on the ground in those areas scooping the mainstream press. As we noted in January, Twitter breaks the news cycle down to seconds, allowing instantaneous distribution of breaking news as it breaks — faster even than blogs or television.

We predicted that Twitter would “become an increasingly more important point for the distribution of breaking news during 2008, to the extent that traditional journalists will begin to pay more and more attention to it the way they have to blogs.” This evening’s earthquake in England, which was first broken over the microblogging service, is proof positive of Twitter’s value as a vehicle for news distribution.

Note: Just to drive home the point, the BBC had the story up a full 35-40 minutes after we first heard about it via Twitter. Not bad by any means, but that just further illustrates how much Twitter breaks down the news cycle.