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October 21, 2015

How Snapchat is Revolutionizing Broadcast News

On Saturday, October 10th, I joined thousands from all over the country at the U.S. Capitol for a discussion on equality, inclusion and justice for all, the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. To my surprise, other than C-SPAN, there was no live coverage of the historic event from any of the major news networks.

The coverage I expected instead came from an untypical source: Snapchat. Through Snapchat’s Live Stories, the Million Man March was broadcast live to Snapchat’s 100 million daily users. The March was so abundantly captured that it rolled into the DC Local Story as well.

As traditional media migrates to digital platforms, many consume their news through social media. Snapchat is growing and not just for entertainment. Minute-by-minute crowd-sourced content from around the world – called Live Stories— is “broadcasting” stories, events and news that corporate networks won’t cover or cannot fully cover.

Live Stories are compilations of “snaps” by the app’s 100 million daily users that are then curated in real-time. These stories show life in different cities around the world and behind-the-scenes footage of special events. Live Stories deliver eyewitness accounts as the events unfold. Each compilation is geographically based and consists of everything from daily life in a local city, college campus, festival or concert to disaster relief in South Carolina after Hurricane Joaquin or Greece in midst of its financial crisis. Each Live Story is packaged in a format similar to broadcast news, but only viewable for 24 hours. Although stories are temporary, they are attracting up to 20 million users viewing content per day.

This feature offers the promise of providing users with a complete view of live events that would otherwise be out of their usual reach and world perspective. Live Stories are not tailored to a user’s preferences like Facebook or Twitter. It is broadcast on everyone’s news feed allowing people to actually be informed of differing opinions.

For millennials like myself, Snapchat is becoming a critical source of news and analysis. Snapchat has definitely realized this trend and is starting to market itself as a source for live event coverage.

However, the important question remains: how will Snapchat be responsible for its news coverage? Currently, Live Stories are recorded by local users, the organization or the app’s employees who travel to the Story venues. When images and videos are submitted to a story, a team of curators based in New York and Los Angeles vet through an estimated 20,000 submissions before picking between 50 to 60 to include. This extremely manual process allows the app more control but also could allow for significant subjectivity. The company recently hired former CNN political reporter Peter Hamby as head of news, an indication of the company’s serious focus on becoming a true news gathering operation.

Snapchat’s “man on the street” approach could very well become a new standard in news media. However, with much success comes much responsibility – something Snapchat must fully understand as it matures along with the millennials it covets.

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