A Beginner’s Guide to Snapchat for Journalists



Despite having launched over seven years ago and having long been touted as “the next big thing” in social media, most seasoned journalists I talk to still have never used Snapchat, and if they have, they do not understand how it can be used to reach younger media consumers. 

This is not entirely surprising as Snapchat is mainly used as a messaging platform rather than a source of news. According to 2017 data analyzed by the Daily Beast, users are 64% more likely to send a snap (or a message) to a friend rather than post a “story,” which is the format that is most often cited as a potential storytelling tool for newsrooms. 

Additionally, these metrics indicate that only 20 percent of Snapchat users are daily consumers of the app’s Discover Edition, which is where select publishers are able to share more highly-produced stories. It has been estimated that 84.8 million people around the world used Snapchat in 2018, or one quarter of the population. 

Still, many newsrooms have found ways to successfully reach a wider audience using the emerging platform. The Guardian, for example, was able to share its content to an additional 1.04 million daily viewers in just one month, according to its Snapchat senior content editor McKenna Grant.

"The majority of our Snapchat users are between 18 and 24 years old and the next largest demographic is 13 to 17, so that's quite different from what we would consider a traditional Telegraph reader," Grant told journalism.co.uk. 

How effectively the platform can reach new readers will likely continue to be a case of trial and error, but knowing the basics of how it works and being aware of some useful ways it can be used as a news gathering and sharing tool is still a worthy exercise, given that the platform continues to grow at a faster rate than both Twitter and Facebook. 

Here are a few pointers to get you started:

The Basics of Story Creation

Many publishers now have their own teams of Snapchat producers to create slick-looking stories thanks to being part of the platform’s Discover network. But any journalist can create a story on their own—and slickness need not apply. 

“It is possible to create good stories if you plan accordingly. In fact, a good story can really make an impression. But also, it is worth remembering that the appeal of the platform is its very informality,” writes journalist Paul Bradshaw.

Bradshaw suggests keeping it simple to start by sticking with photos and short video clips. The catch is that you must capture the image or video within the app, and the images need to be vertical. You’ll also want to give your images some context by adding text and can decorate them further using stickers and emojis (remember, informal is expected here). If you have any experience creating Instagram stories, this will come in handy.

Part of the appeal of Snapchat stories is the intimacy of getting information directly from the source, so getting comfortable filming yourself talking at your phone is essential. 

“Some broadcast practices are worth employing here: Placing yourself in a relevant and interesting location, for example, can make for much more interesting video than filming yourself at your desk,” writes Bradshaw.  For this reason, Snapchat stories can be particularly useful for journalists who cover live events. 

Additionally, consider including some short and relevant interview clips from your reporting to add that welcome mix of voices that all good stories should have, no matter what form they take. 

As with all new skills, practice as much as you can at home before promising your editor that you will deliver engaging Snapchat content at the next campaign rally you cover. 

Once you’re comfortable with the basics, consider investing in some additional tools that can up the overall quality of your stories, including a microphone, a tripod and a shutter remote, which allows you to capture photos and videos without always having to have one hand on your phone. 

As a News Gathering Tool 

If you’re not ready to take the leap into creating content with Snapchat, you can still use it as a reporting tool, especially using the platform’s Snap Map feature. 

“Through the Snap Map, journalists can get a new perspective of the events, news stories and storytelling styles that matter to younger audiences, as well as insider views from Snapchat users who have access to places that perhaps the media has restricted access to, or cannot enter with larger cameras,” Catalina Albeanu wrote on journalism.co.uk. 

Snapchat launched Snap Map in June 2017, which plots the Snapchat activity of its users based on location, and a desktop version, which can be accessed by even those without a Snapchat account, came out last February. 

“I mean even just looking at the Snap Maps feature or Snapchat search feature where you can see stories from all over the world that are created by the average person who just has Snapchat, that type of insight is so new and so refreshing, but not many journalists are taking advantage of that and seeing that as a way to find stories, find sources, find ideas, and collect their breaking news,” Marianna Brady of the BBC said. 

In general, Snapchat can be used as a crowdsourcing tool to find additional voices and content for the stories you are reporting on.

“If you can get people to send you their thoughts in a way they're comfortable with, you’ll get some authentic perspectives,” Brady said. 


Justin Sablich is a freelance journalist and social media strategist as well as a contributing writer and editor at The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustinSablich. 

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