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With New Hires, Snapchat Moves Beyond Messaging


Snapchat is known as a platform for quick-disappearing selfies and videos, and the messaging app company currently valued at $15 billion promises to get even bigger. Creative types from The Onion, Fox and more are joining the company's new original content division, and it's hired some journalists, too. Here to talk about all this is NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik in New York. David, thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: So this is - for the most part I think it's fair to say Snapchat's known as an app for - people sometimes send silly pictures to each other. It's changing into something more.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, well, it's still extremely popular among young people in particular. Pew recently had a study out saying two-fifths of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 use Snapchat frequently, so that's a pretty high number. Facebook, obviously, is still the monster, but I think it is evolving. You're seeing journalists and other people figuring out ways to take advantage of these really brief videos. You know, there are two things about them - they're brief and they go away. And so, you know, it offers an informality, an unstudied way of sharing a private moment, of sharing a quick insight that'll - is fleeting enough that it might disappear once you stop thinking about it. And therefore people are trying to play with the medium and seeing what they can get out of it.

SIMON: But, surely, the whole idea of creating original content is for it not to disappear, isn't it?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, think about what original content means here. Original content means that they want stuff that is organic to the site. One of the things that is true about Snapchat is that it is purely mobile. You can't sign online at work...

SIMON: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: And take a look at it, so you're not going to get it later if you don't happen to have your - your iPhone or your Android close at hand. The second thing is that it's vertical, so you have to shoot it with that in mind, whether it's a picture with some sort of crudely-written caption that you can do on the app or whether it's one of these short videos or bursts of short videos they call a story if you collect these little collections of short videos together. The original content they do, they say they want to partner with people. So, for example, Madonna debuted a video that was designed for Snapchat earlier this year. They've got another musical group that's doing that as well. And they're finding ways to figure out how to take advantage of this new platform to tell stories in a distinctive way that'll keep people coming back.

SIMON: Sean Mills from The Onion; Marcus Wiley from Fox recently joined the content and development teams. What do you think the implications of having those two creative types are?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think it's - they're looking for ways to showcase what Snapchat does. Just as Buzzfeed, you know, really makes its money almost exclusively by dint of showing off to advertisers that they can create branded content that can go just as viral as the listicles of cute animals that we've come to know in recent years that Buzzfeed will share with us on various social media platforms. So Snapchat, too, wants to be able to show off what it can do to potential advertisers. And in so doing, they've got within Snapchat something called the Snap Channel that they are, you know, intending to develop some of their own content for. And I think this is an effort at doing that.

SIMON: And opportunities for journalism appear.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, Snapchat has this Discover feature where it has partners. And this is the way in which Snapchat intends to go forward - not to build a newsroom of its own, but to partner with other folks - folks like Cosmo., CNN. Vice has done a number of very - not only visually arresting things, but meaningful things where they create videos and create elements and stories that are specific for Snapchat. And one of the things that, you know, is intended to hook people and make them feel compelled to look at it every day is that the stuff just will disappear after a certain amount of time. It's either here or it's gone. Now, that's not what we think of as journalism. If something's...

SIMON: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: Ephemeral, it disappears; there's not a record of it. It's not likely to be an outlet that's going to hold people accountable. But if it's a new way for established brands to reach people, they want to be there.

SIMON: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik in New York. Thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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