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How news organizations are using SnapChat to report and distribute news

On the surface Snapchat would seem like a poor service for journalists seeking to convey information. Users are restricted to images, text or drawings that last no more than 10 seconds before disappearing. And the only people who will see your content are people who already follow you.

But that hasn’t stopped a few enterprising news organizations from experimenting, adding their own voice to the more than 500 million Snaps sent each day. Especially with the addition of the Snapchat story function, users and publications alike can combine a series of Snaps into a story, making it a better vessel to convey longer bits of information.

Let’s take a look at how a few publications are using Snapchat to gather and distribute news.

1. NowThis News (username: nowthisnews)

John Herrman / NowThis News Snapchat

NowThis News pushes their content directly to social media sites, like Instagram and Vine. They’ve also added Snapchat. The Snap above was from protests in Ferguson. But they also use Snapchat for less serious pieces of news, such as this one. For them, it was an experiment in new waters of an existing professional community.  With Snapchat, they are able to get their short snippets of breaking news to people through an application they already use.

2. The Washington Post (username: washingtonpost)

Washington Post Snapchat

During the Super Bowl back in February, the Washington Post created a 133-second Snapchat story documenting the ads throughout the game. There are no comments, liking or reposting on Snapchat, nothing to gauge audience’s reaction and no method for feedback. But users can snap back. Cory Haik of the Washington Post said they learned that the seconds eventually add up and a 30-character limit makes it hard to include much information. Even though only  three users snapped back, the whole experience was more personal and a “direct engagement in the moment from someone else experiencing the same thing we were.”

I talked with Tim Wong, Senior Designer at the Washington Post, about how different news platforms are being integrated into the Post. He is fascinated by Snapchat’s ephemeral nature. To him, it’s important for any news company to experiment and function in new spaces, especially with such a powerful distribution tool such as Snapchat.  “It doesn’t have to be a mind blowing photo,” he said. “It just needs to be some cool content, and it’s not going to last forever.”

Wong said that, particularly at the Post, they use Snapchat not only as a news tool, but also as a method of letting the audience know that they are out covering the news and keeping up with the trends that a normal person has worked into their lives. It’s more about sharing a story, rather than emphasizing a brand or style.

More recently, the Post covered the election and used Snapchat as a way to get the public’s input. They set up a separate Snapchat account (username: postpolitics) to receive the Snaps.

3. NPR  (username: nprnews)

This is NPR’s take on Snapchat in the news.  They have created 12-second Facts of the Day to share with their users. For them, it’s fun, unique and an effective method to capture the attention of a younger audience. NPR Digital Strategist Melody Kramer said in a USA Today article that they noticed the increasing popularity of the application and thought it was important to see how their content would look on a new medium.

4. Mashable (username: mashable)

Mashable shows behind-the-scenes photos and clips of the crew through a Snapchat story to give a face and personality to their name. They also use Snaps – with text and drawings, of course – to tease new content.

5. InStyle (username: instyle)

InStyle Snapchat

Back in August of this year, InStyle magazine chose Snapchat to reveal the subject of their September issue cover of their September issue, typically the biggest month for fashion magazines in terms of ad sales. It was also the issue to celebrate InStyle’s 20th anniversary. According to an article on The Social Times, InStyle had created a presence in the application over the summer and wanted to reach a crowd that wasn’t necessarily their typical readership.

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Northwestern University Knight Lab advances news media innovation through exploration, experimentation and education. The Lab's free publishing tools help to make information more meaningful and promote quality storytelling on the Internet.

About the author

About Posted on December 20, 2014 Posted by

Ashley Wu

Journalism and Spanish (2016)

Designing, developing and studying journalism at Northwestern. Also constantly scouting the campus for free food.