NowThis: Snapchatting the News

NowThis News, the mobile video news organization whose push onto Instagram made headlines this summer, is now moving onto a new social video frontier: Snapchat.

Stories, Snapchat’s latest feature, allows users to take a series of videos and images that can be viewed and shared within 24 hours. After that, they disappear. (Previously, Snapchat photos would vanish after just 10 seconds.) The new feature has already been used by big brands like Taco Bell. But NowThis editor-in-chief Ed O’Keefe appears to be the first to be using it to do real journalism.

“It’s going to be a grand experiment,” O’Keefe said. “Snapchat could be a community for longer-form stories and hard news. We’re not going in and doing anything but real, distinct original news on the platform.”

O’Keefe told Digiday that NowThis is planning a story documenting the life of a Congressman during the government shutdown. He declined to specify which one, but the feature will run exclusively on Snapchat. Today, they’re running around New York City documenting the work of British graffiti artist Banksy using Stories – particularly fitting given the ephemeral nature of his work.

O’Keefe says his team has created one story a day since they launched their account on Oct. 3, the day Stories was unveiled. “We’ve experimented with everything from a very serious subject like the Navy Yard shooting to the lighter sides of the government shutdown,” he said.

It’s unclear how many other news organizations are actively using Snapchat. BuzzFeed’s Samir Mezrahi told Digiday that the site set up its account months ago but hasn’t used Stories yet.

“We don’t use it too often, although people send us snaps all the time,” he said.

Digiday attempted to contact Snapchat to see if any major news organizations had expressed interest in using the app but received no response.

But NowThis isn’t a typical news organization. It was an early adopter of both Instagram and Vine — it has more than 50,000 followers on each account. Though the social video news organization has a traditional website, mobile is its primary platform. The company was launched last fall and was co-founded by Ken Lerer, who also helped launch the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.

NowThis currently integrates its Instagram and Vine accounts into its app and website but can’t do the same with its Snapchat content. O’Keefe isn’t bothered by this — he says having content exclusive to Snapchat is in line with the personal, closed-circuit nature of the app.

O’Keefe says NowThis has focused on Stories over the original 10-second snaps since the feature went live. All six NowThis VJs are involved in Snapchat Stories, but its Washington, D.C. bureau has starred in the bulk of its videos thus far due to the current news cycle, according to O’Keefe. Most of the team is based in New York City.

Building a following on Snapchat will be a big challenge for NowThis. On Instagram and Vine, users can search an account and browse their content before they decide to follow it, and the latter even has a feature that allows users to share content posted by other people. Snapchat does not offer its users any of these options.

“Not having the ability to ‘re-Snapchat,’ if you will, certainly creates a challenge in creating a followership,” said O’Keefe. “We’re going to have to work for every follower we get.”