Snapchat ventures into news territory

But stories will not drive traffic to websites
January 28, 2015

The app used by millions as a creative outlet for duck-face selfies, fleeting nude photos, and covert humiliation of unknowing passersby is the latest third-party platform to host news coverage.

On Tuesday, Snapchat unveiled Discover, a new section within the app that features content from 11 different media partners, including CNN, ESPN, National Geographic, and Vice, among others. The messaging app enables its more than 100 million smartphone-wielding users to send photos or short videos with a set shelf life to specific friends, or compile them in longer “stories.” Tuesday’s update allows them to also view news and features from mainstream media outlets, swipe-able content interspersed with advertising.

“This is not social media,” Snapchat said in a blog post announcing Discover. “Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.” Lofty language, indeed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 2.24.13 PM.pngA handful of digital publishers have ramped up efforts to produce content specifically for social media, hawking their wares within pre-existing online communities. In this sense, Facebook and other platforms play a role akin to that of cable providers. Snapchat similarly gives outlets a large—and particularly young—user base. And it will provide media outlets a slice of ad revenue in return for piquing those users’ interest. Stories hosted on Snapchat exist not in a newsfeed that rewards engagement, but rather a section separate from the rest of the app. There is currently no way to share or comment on stories, a marked difference from similar efforts elsewhere.

Tuesday’s inaugural content deserves high marks for diversity of form and ease of use. Users can swipe through previews of stories—either static images or video clips—and then scroll down to watch or read the full pieces. Vice posted a music video, written feature, and four mini-documentaries up to 25 minutes in length. Yahoo! News published a series of wire stories with lead-ins narrated by Katie Couric. National Geographic, meanwhile, boasted a mix including videos, a photo slideshow, a multiple-choice question, and a 2,000-word feature. Stories will exist only for a day, though that’s practically an eternity in the world of snaps. “Every edition is refreshed after 24 hours,” Snapchat’s blog post read, “because what’s news today is history tomorrow.”

CNN likewise ran a handful of visually slick pieces, including multimedia coverage of the snowstorm that hit the Northeast this week, a video feature on “smart drug” use in Silicon Valley, and a written story on Hillary Clinton lacking a Facebook page. “CNN’s Discover channel lives natively within the app–built from the ground up, exclusively for Snapchat,” said Samantha Barry, CNN’s head of social news, in a statement. It didn’t elaborate, however, on how many journalists such efforts will require. Barry did not respond to a request for comment.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 2.23.13 PM.pngDespite the broad array of stories Tuesday, it’s unclear whether the app will help news organizations make money, or if will simply bolster their #brands. Success would require that Snapchat users essentially mix work and play, taking breaks from friends’ minute-by-minute frat party updates to scroll over to a video feature on Auschwitz. That’s a hard sell in any medium, let alone one that traffics in self-destructing snapshots of users’ lives.

David Uberti is a writer in New York. He was previously a media reporter for Gizmodo Media Group and a staff writer for CJR. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.