snapchat phone
Credit: By Adam Przezdziek on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Snapchat's Discover feature has recently expanded to host eighteen publishers, including Vox and Fusion, but some news organisations are still experimenting with the platform outside the channel.

Al Jazeera English launched its Snapchat account, AJE News, last month, to experiment with reporting on current affairs in a more engaging way.

"We were thinking about what was the best way to do it, should we be trying to reach a new audience or should we attempt to reach our own audience who happens to use Snapchat," said Ziad Ramley, online producer for Al Jazeera English.

"Eventually, we just decided to take a leap into the unknown and experiment."

As the account is fairly new, Al Jazeera English publishes around three stories per week on average, but the possibility of it becoming a daily strategy in the future is not excluded.

Ramley said the decision about what to cover on the platform "stems from what we've seen other people do" – rather than focusing on soft news events, the aim is to cover hard news.

Some of the outlet's news coverage on Snapchat so far includes: stories on people's reaction to the Paris attacks from the French city of Lunel, which several locals had left in order to join ISIS; reporting from an active war zone in Iraq on Peshmerga fighters on the front line against ISIS; the arrival of a new wave of refugees on the island of Lesbos, and a two-day story about the Pope's visit to Nairobi, in Kenya.

An example of AJE's Snapchat coverage of the Pope's visit in Kenya

Wilfrid Dinnick, executive producer, online, for Al Jazeera English, told the broadcaster's main advantage in producing stories for Snapchat is its network of more than 80 global bureaus.

AJE does not have a distributed news team or a group of people dedicated exclusively to Snapchat, so every correspondent around the world can bring their own expertise to the platform.

"We're often in places that are under-reported and that's our focus as a network.

"We cover the human stories and we like to hear from people first about how these events are affecting them, so [Snapchat] is another platform where audiences can really get a raw look at what it's like to be at the scene.

"We've been making sure that we're not talking down to people, or trying to be hip or cool. It's just a matter of 'look at this story, can you believe it? Here we are'."

The production process involves close communication with Al Jazeera English's global TV teams and discussing the feasibility of covering a certain story with the planning desk, before crafting a storyboard that takes into account the situation on the ground.

But real-time communication is currently the main challenge of working with people in different time zones, and in places where internet connectivity could also be spotty.

"Once we identify that it can be done, we will think of how we can tell the story visually, because it can't just be a talking head in front of a background," Ramley said, "we need to find a way to really communicate the people on the ground and the real story".

The network has not "given the account a full push yet", he added, and marketing comes either organically from within the platform, or from promoting AJE News on the organisation's other social media accounts.

The correspondents also encourage feedback from the audience at the end of each story, asking them where in the world they should go next and what they should report on.

"That is how we decided to cover the Pope's visit in Nairobi in lieu of another story happening at the same time.

"People's messages and snaps about our coverage have been instrumental in our decision to not dumb down the news, because they are responding to very intelligent issues in a very high-level manner," said Ramley.

Al Jazeera English correspondents have also been open to experimenting on the platform, bringing their own voice into the reporting, rather than ensuring a consistent tone and format across all stories.

"Everyone so far seems to like it, because it's a great living story, because it offers a real window into what the journalist is seeing first-hand," said Dinnick.

"We don't need to do a 30-second tease on Snapchat to a news package that's running on TV.

"You can watch a Snapchat video as a loyal Al Jazeera fan, or someone who's just found out about us, and get the full story right there."

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