With its community said to be sharing 55 million photos on average each day, Instagram has become a sought-after location for engagement by news outlets.
Journalists are keen to connect with the platform's reported community of 150 million 'active' users each month, both to collect images and short-form video posted by the network, and to distribute its own content to a potentially new audience.
While more journalists engage on the platform, snapping images as they go about their work, or sharing behind-the-scenes video, new projects continue to emerge from newsrooms which are specifically built around the platform.
In this feature we look at two Instagram-focused projects which launched last month at the BBC and the Guardian, hearing about their approaches to sharing on the platform and why Instagram is an important place to be.
The BBC: Instafax
Last month, a new 'experimental' project called Instafax was launched by BBC News which aims to "compress the news item down to 15 seconds of video", Chris Hamilton, social media editor for BBC News, told Journalism.co.uk at the time.
Up to a few videos are published each day, making use of the short-video feature launched by the platform last year. The Instafax videos range from 'headline packages' – sharing a few clips of video for the big news stories that day, with text detailing the stories featured – to the entire 15-seconds being dedicated to a particular news story or more light-hearted feature. Examples of those can be found below.
- News stories:
- Light-hearted feature:
Hamilton explained that Instagram remains "a relatively new platform in a new space to try out new things".
"We're not trying to make a big song and dance about it but we've put it out there and we're going to see what people think of it and tinker with it if necessary."
Hamilton described the project – which was initiated by Matt Danzico, head of BBC Video Innovation Lab – as "taking inspiration from Ceefax and bitesize news". Each 'Instafax' is made up of video clips edited together with small text explainers.
The growth in mobile and social audiences is driving a desire to innovate in this area and produce products specifically designed for these platforms.
"We want to be doing things that are fit for mobile and that seems a natural place to do it," Hamilton said.
Reflecting on the power of Instagram as an engagement tool for journalists and newsrooms, Hamilton added that one of its strength is the fact it serves to encompass mobile, social and short-form video.
"I think that's part of the reason why it's had quite phenomenal growth and is now one of the big platforms, because it does combine all of those factors: mobile, it's very visual, starting with stills and moving into video more recently, video is becoming an ever more important part of the way people are consuming information and sharing content, and of course the ability to be able to comment and engage, to like and share is all part of it as well.
"That combination of factors does make it an attractive place for people to go and for us to be there and trying out new experiments."
The Guardian: #GuardianCam
Like the BBC, the Guardian has also been looking at ways to use Instagram, but while the BBC's latest project focuses on offering news updates and headline round-ups, the Guardian is looking at the opportunity to use Instagram to offer added context and colour, in effect, turning Instagram into another form of the "reporter's notebook".
#GuardianCam, which the news outlet embarked on late last month, is a development of a previous social project called #TwiTrips, Katie Rogers, social news editor at the Guardian US told Journalism.co.uk.
The previous hashtag invited ideas for Guardian journalists and photographers who were travelling to the US.
"All of the things they did on the road trips were Twitter-recommended or recommended through GuardianWitness, or through the comments," she explained. "So basically everything they did on these road trips was UGC [user-generated content] and social."
The result was an array of Instagram images which fuelled the Guardian's coverage of the trips "with extra social media elements", she said.
And entering 2014 she explained that there was a drive "to really go at it with Instagram", and put it directly into the hands of their journalists. And so GuardianCam was born, which sees the Instagram account handed over to a Guardian newsroom in the UK, US or Australia from one week to the next, to deliver a "behind-the-scenes" glimpse into specific assignments.
"It's really taking that #TwitTrips model that started in the UK and expanding it around the world," Rogers said. In fact, this is "the first truly global-from-the-start social account that we're trying out", she added, being run by teams in the US, UK and Australia.
"We have a schedule, it's booked for the next couple of months, there are requests from around the globe to use it, and it's really encouraging to know that this is something that people want to be involved with because they understand the importance of it."
She highlighted use of the account by journalists covering the State of the Union Address by President Obama last month, as an example of a "really stand out moment", offering a "great look into Washington culture".
In the future, she hopes to see journalists using the hashtag on their own accounts on Instagram and other networks, to help those communities engage around a story and gain an added perspective, as well as share in the journalist's own experience of covering it.
"I don't see it as this arbitrary 'let's put everything we do every day on Instagram', I want readers to be aware [that] we're using the hashtag when there's movement, when people are travelling, when there's a specific story to follow."
Looking out to the rest of the industry she highlighted work by NowThisNews on Instagram as another interesting example of how the platform can be used by journalists, as well as the use of the #onassignment hashtag by NPR reporters.
"It's a really lovely look into the life at NPR and on the beats, and #GuardianCam was making that our own concept".
While the use of #GuardianCam means journalists and photographers are encouraged to produce content for the Instagram audience, and even acts as an "alternative front page' for the Instagram community, the content does not only live on that platform, with Rogers stressing the importance of bringing the images and video back onto the Guardian's own digital platforms to complement other coverage. As well as also linking to the Instagram material from the main Guardian website.
"Even if there's not a huge amount of traffic generated back to that Instagram page from the story, I think it's a really, hugely important signal to the readers that you are on these other platforms and letting them know you are there," she said.
"Having these things speak to each other is really important," she added. "I think that social platforms need to align themselves with content, I don't think that they should be run separate of that."
Additional reporting by Alastair Reid, news reporter at Journalism.co.uk
- Instagram will deliver a workshop on how journalists can use the platform at Journalism.co.uk's digital journalism conference news:rewired on 20 February. The event will also feature a session on short-form video, featuring the BBC's Matt Danzico and others. Tickets are now sold out, but you can access session videos after the event with our digital tickets.
Correction: This article was updated to clarify that Instafax launched in January.
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