Can Snapchat lead in social media journalism?

Can Snapchat lead in social media journalism?
Snapchat is looking to enter the field of social media journalism with the hiring of its first head of news, Peter Hamby. (Photo: AdamPrzezdziek/Flickr under CC)

Social media has been at the forefront of communication, as well as leading an influence in how people get news, whether its the results of Britain's general election or the news that the Blackhawks defeated the Minnesota Wild to advance to the NHL's Western Conference semifinals. Facebook and Twitter have been at the helm of this, and are looking to make the news a significant feature of their social networks beyond being a platform for users to catch up.

Facebook is this month planning to launch an initiative called Instant Articles, where publishers host news content on the social network (and could have a new potential to gain advertising revenue), while Twitter was recently discussing the possibility of buying the mobile news app Circa.

Yet, as both Facebook and Twitter look to go beyond curating roles in social media journalism, another social network is looking to gain a hold, the Los Angeles based Snapchat. It launched a Discover feature last January featuring content from publishers including CNN, ESPN, Comedy Central and People Magazine. A couple of weeks ago, it made a significant hire to go into a social journalism role.

On April 27, the social network announced that it would be hiring Peter Hamby of CNN's Washington DC bureau to become its first Head of News. In an interview with the On Media blog of the political news web site Politico, Hamby said there was some potential for Snapchat to have a significant role in social journalism.

"Snapchat is one of the most exciting young companies in the world," Hamby said, who is to remain a contributor for CNN through the elections, the blog added. "They have a big and growing audience, and we've seen Discover is a huge success. Their live stories around big events, around places both here and abroad, the potential to take users to new places, we can see some application of that with news."

Katie Hawkins-Gaar of the Poynter Institute says Snapchat is trying to fit into news, and its too early to determine whether its Discover feature is successful. (Photo from her Twitter profile).

Katie Hawkins-Gaar of the Poynter Institute says Snapchat is trying to fit into news, and its too early to determine whether its Discover feature is successful. (Photo from her Twitter profile).

The hire came however as speculation surrounded the future of Discover, as a report indicated that it had lost significant traffic since its launch, ranging from 30-50 percent, according to the web site The Information.

That all said, can Snapchat really make journalism work on its platform?

"In the same way that news publishers are trying to fit into Snapchat, it is trying to figure out how to fit into news," said Katie Hawkins-Gaar, the Digital Innovation Faculty at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida, in a telephone interview, noting that it is too early to determine whether or not its Discover feature is a success or not. "The hire is part of it."

Hawkins-Gaar adds that Snapchat's decision to hire Hamby signals something more beyond Snapchat's desire to get into social media journalism.

"All the major social network players are trying to figure out how news fits into their network and how they can own that," Hawkins-Gaar said, noting that Facebook and Twitter have people working in numerous departments to oversee that relationship. "Through social media and analytics, there is more information on what audiences are interested in. News organizations have more information than ever. Likewise, through social media, audiences are better connected to news organizations. Engagement has become a huge priority. Audiences are more empowered, and there is more of a connection between readers and journalists."

However, in spite of social media's role in journalism now, it isn't all about social media as a primary tool for users to consume news, despite it growing as a news source for many people.

"Social media is a growing way that people are getting their news," Hawkins-Gaar said. "That has grown over time and that will continue. People get their news based on how that is convenient for them. If there is a magazine on the table they will pick it up or they will watch breaking news on TV. Those options are available and people are getting news in various ways."

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