The Creative and Offbeat Ways Journalists Are Using Snapchat
Snapchat has released a new update called "Discover" that takes it beyond selfies and into news.
January 29, 2015

Snapchat made a statement this week with its launch of a new feature called Snapchat Discover: The popular messaging app  wants to be more than just a place for Millennials to trade disappearing selfies.

Snapchat’s new Discover channels present videos, music and articles from major media companies that have partnered to blast out bite-sized news and entertainment nuggets to a young, mobile audience.

News organizations said the Discover publishing feature is already proving valuable for journalism by allowing them to provide Snapchat users with breaking news coverage, as well as a steady stream of trivia on the biggest stories of the day.

“I think the idea that Snapchat users –like the younger generation –aren’t interested in news is not correct,” Matt Dornic, a spokesperson for CNN, told AJR in an interview this week.

Even before the Discover launch Tuesday, news organizations have been dabbling in the fast-growing app. They have largely been using the Stories feature, which allows users to string photos and videos together in chronological order to share with friends or a wider audience, according to TechCrunch.

But Discover opens a broader realm of news possibilities. While Stories are limited to images with drawings or text overlay, Discover can include longer videos, text in article format, images and graphics, all in one streamlined section.

The news organizations included in the launch of Discover are CNN, Yahoo News, ESPN, VICE and Daily Mail. In addition, People, Cosmopolitan, Food Network, National Geographic, Comedy Central and Warner Music Group all have channels in Discover.

Stories on Snapchat’s Discover will only be available for viewing for 24 hours, according to Business Insider. After 24 hours, those stories will expire, and fresh stories will replace them for the next 24-hour cycle.

Some background on the mobile messaging app itself: Former Stanford students Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy launched Snapchat in 2011 as a way to share awkward selfies and funny photos with [their] friends.” according to the Snapchat site blog. Those pictures disappear after a maximum of 10 seconds. (Mashable offers a decent beginner’s guide on how to use the app.)

Most Snapchat users are in the 13 to 25 age range and two-fifths of U.S. 18-year-olds use the app “multiple times daily,” according to Business Insider’s BI Intelligence.

“Snapchat is on to something that will be incredibly meaningful for its audience and super helpful for reaching people who aren’t consuming content on TV, newspapers and magazines,” former head of digital at CNN KC Estenson told Digiday.

 Here are some of the ways news organizations and reporters are using Snapchat:

NEWS BUILT FOR THE USER: That’s how Dornic, of CNN Digital, explained his company’s  approach to creating stories for Snapchat.

Dornic said that while major breaking news stories will be included in CNN’s Discover coverage, the company will not try to cover everything in this platform. For example, Dornic said recent CNN Discover coverage included a story about the East Coast blizzard as well as a longer-form story about President Barack Obama’s trip to India.

A screenshot of content on the Snapchat Discover feature, from CNN.

A screenshot of content on the Snapchat Discover feature, from CNN.

“It will be a nice mixture of international and domestic news and enterprise reporting all built for the Snapchat user in mind,” he said, adding, “It’s a little bit of meat, a little bit of veggies and a little bit of dessert.”

CNN this week, for example, posted a series of posts in the new Discover section in honor of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz prisoners. Those included a 1 minute, 46 second-long video narrative of the infamous concentration camp. The video provided users with a combination of footage of the grounds as they stand today and details of the camp’s history.

This week, CNN also conducted its first interview of a politician — Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY — over Snapchat, reported Mediaite.


NowThis, an organization that builds content specifically for social media and mobile devices, sends daily news updates out via Snapchat Stories. NowThis shares video clips, images and drawings on topics ranging from facts about winter storm Juno to novelty stories, like a cat returning home five days after being pronounced

Screenshot from the NowThis Snapchat stories feed.

Screenshot from the NowThis Snapchat stories feed.


Maya Tanaka, a senior creative producer at NowThis, told AJR in October that Snapchat is a uniquely creative medium.

“[Snapchat] definitely affects the way we present the news, the news we choose to report, and our style,” Tanaka said.  “We can report on really underrepresented stories, which is really refreshing, and we can do longer explainers for stories that have no visuals, since we just make those ourselves.”

Tanaka also appreciates the speed of Snapchat, and said many users hear about news for the first time through the app.

Mashable reported this week that news organizations, in covering the winter storm on Snapchat’s Discover platform, used some combination of photos, videos and text to tell the story.

A couple swipes left in Yahoo News’ Discover channel brought users to a story of a yeti traversing the snow-covered streets of Boston. From that screen, a swipe up revealed a short text story with accompanying photos. Other organizations, like Daily Mail, posted longer stories that required multiple swipes up to read the full text. CNN even posted a video of a reporter braving the worst of the storm.

This post includes contributions from Zoe King and Casey Leins