Remember this date in history: April 24, 2017, The New York Times launched on #Snapchat Discover.
All the news thats fit to print will be transformed into an edition on Snapchat, going live at 6 a.m. every weekday starting Monday. Its a dramatic moment for one of the worlds oldest and most respected newspapers and news brands to dedicate resources to a young app.
For Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, its a big endorsement for its product at a time when social networking giant Facebook is on a quest to crush the company’s growth by releasing copycat features.
Six years ago when Stanford student Evan Spiegel pitched an idea for a
sexting disappearing messaging app, nowhere in sight was the prestigious The New York Times leveraging 20 people to contribute to designing the launch on Snapchat Discover (the ongoing team is about half that size). And yet, here we are.
For Snapchat and for the Times, so much has changed.
It goes all the way back to the strategy we articulated August 2015, 18 months ago, with key planks, said Kinsey Wilson, editor for strategy and innovation at The New York Times, “the most important of which was continuing to produce top notch journalism on every front. But behind that, were a subscription #business first.
What could Snapchat have to do with a subscription business? Habit.
We want to be a destination for our most committed users, readers. We want to become a daily habit in peoples lives, Wilson continued.
Snapchat has become a daily habit for 161 million people, Snap last reported in March. Its known for a dedicated millennial audience, which the Times is also looking to better serve. Already, the Times has 50 million readers, across platforms, in the age range of 18 to 35.
On Snapchat, users can find The New York Times, alongside Mashable, SELF and Entertainment Weekly and a growing list of other publishers on Discover. They aren’t the first newspaper to join the platform, but they are dedicated to making sure it’s something every user opens.
And the paper might have a bit of a secret weapon. Loyal Times readers may be excited to learn that The Daily Mini, the small version of the crossword, will be featured daily within the edition. It won’t be interactive, but can be drawn on using Snap’s tools. The puzzle’s answers are available by swiping up on the snap.
The editions will feature a variety of newspaper and magazine stories, including ones with thousands of words. Other stories will be formatted originally and exclusively for the mobile phone screen, like this:
Were mindful to reach new audiences and to do so on business terms that ultimately make sense for both parties, Wilson said. As we worked with [Snapchat], we wanted to make sure this is something that works in the longterm.
Kinsey and Snap declined to comment on the terms of the agreement. Traditionally, Snapchat publishers choose either revenue sharing, with ads sold by Snap/Viacom or by the publisher, or a licensing fee.
Snapchat launched Discover in January 2015, after executives spent six months courting publishers. Those meetings, starring Evan Spiegel and Snaps VP of Content Nick Bell, included The New York Times, but not every meeting landed an immediate deal of course.
The Times waited, after repeated rounds of on-boarding new publishers.
The company is not brand new to Snapchat. Times journalists and digital editors began seeing the potential back in 2013, when the app launched Stories.
When Stories came out I had this epiphany: New York Times reporters are storytellers so NYT could have a channel showing that. Having that kernel of the thought to getting the Times on Snapchat was definitely quite a journey, said Talya Minsberg, social strategy editor at the New York Times.
In 2015, the Times wasnt new to social, at all. It had a Facebook Page and a Twitter account. It was on Vine (RIP) and Instagram. But there was something different about Snapchat.
What was really hard to wrap our minds around was that [Snapchat] was so raw. The idea of, Lets not take a photo and send it up to the photo desk was scary, Minsberg said.
With time, Minsberg convinced the team. The first Snapchat Story involved Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and correspondent Adam Ellick in Angola. Kristof was working on a column about rats who sniff land mines. Instead of simply waiting to share the story via words in print and online, he posted snaps:
The Times has had dozens of Snapchat Stories since. They let reporters takeover the account for events like Fashion Week in Paris. A few weeks back, the Times asked Snapchat users to snap them photos and videos of the big snowstorm.
The Times declined to comment on engagement (how many opens and screenshots) they receive. Minsberg said they are “happy with the numbers.”
That hasn’t been the case for every platform. Just last fall, the Times pulled out of Facebook Instant Articles, the social network’s effort to minimize article loading time by requiring publishers to directly post their stories within Facebook. The Times was a launch partner for Instant Articles.
The changes can’t be qualified as “the Times is pro-Snapchat and anti-Facebook,” obviously. The #media company still shares links to articles on their Facebook Page and funnels money into advertising their subscription product on Facebook. They also are up for experimenting with other products Facebook is gearing to release.
“The simple answer is [Instant Articles] simply wasnt performing for us on an advertising and subscription conversion front. We ran a test in August, September of last year where we were all in and all out,” Wilson said. “Were not testing an ideological position. We continue to work closely with Facebook and have a very strong partnership.”
Now, nearly two and a half years into Snapchat Discover, the Times is joining the increasingly crowded environment. Were constantly looking at whats emerging in the marketplace, what audiences are gravitating too and figuring out is it worth the time and effort,” Wilson said.
Snapchat Discover is quite unlike Facebook’s Instant Articles. It’s not about setting up an RSS-like feed like Apple News, Google AMP, or Flipboard, either.
You got to develop for the platform to have an incredible presence. It has to fit within the environment that they created in a natural, compelling way,” Wilson said. “This is a new form of digital journalism.”
“This is a new form of digital journalism.” Kinsey Wilson, The New York Times
The Times spent the last two years keeping an eye on Discover. In the last six months, they began experimenting more with the format .
“I cant speak to exactly what aligned in the solar system in terms of the timing in particular, but I think it felt right and it felt like a good time for us to do it and we prepared to do it,” said Andrew Kueneman, editor of digital news design for The New York Times.
Some NYT employees have worked at other publications, which had built for Discover, and therefore, have some background knowledge. The publication set up check-ins with “our friends at Snapchat,” Kueneman said, over the period of a few months and started learning best practices.
“We would take their feedback and work through, week after week, in terms of developing our voice and paying attention to the suggestions,” Kueneman said.
The digital desk decided that the Times‘s Discover channel would be optimized for the morning commute, one edition that goes live every weekday morning. Then they spend the day crafting the next one. Unlike CNN, it wouldn’t be breaking news updates. Unlike Cosmopolitan, it wouldn’t be evergreen lifestyle content. Though, that could change.
What were not doing is putting a newspaper on Snapchat, Minsberg said. Were going to be a very agile team and a very agile product to make sure that The New York Times is a source of news on Snapchat.
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