Snapchat’s redesign has been critiqued for being difficult to find celebrities, such as Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian. But while that may upset a subset of the world’s Kardashian fans, another mistake is the app now seemingly burying breaking news.
On Tuesday, a shooting at YouTube HQ left four people injured (three were shot, one hurt their ankle feeling) and the shooter dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The news was trending on Twitter and was being shared to Facebook, and while false information was spreading on those social apps, Snapchat provided a verified and close-up look at what was happening in San Bruno, California. But it wasn’t easy to find.
After swiping to Snapchat Discover an hour after the shooting, the top of my feed featured Kim Kardashian’s latest Snapchat Story and the new edition of Cosmopolitan. I swiped past dozens of other Stories before I saw Snapchat’s Official Story on the breaking news, titled “Police Confirm Active Shooter at YouTube HQ.”
That’s a stark contrast from Snapchat’s previous efforts in breaking news events. In February, Snapchat prominently featured curated footage on the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The Snapchat Story titled “High School Shooting” had some psychologists questioning the mental effects of Snapchat’s showcasing firsthand accounts that included snaps of gunfire and screaming.
Of course, scrolling past Kardashian content wasn’t the first time I tried to use Snapchat that day as a news source on the shooting. Shortly after YouTube employees tweeted about a shooting, Mashable tech editor Pete Pachal opened Snap Maps to see if anyone had snapped from nearby. They had, and I tweeted a link to the web view. Mashable reporter Karissa Bell embedded that Snapchat Story in her article. One snap featured people walking in front of YouTube HQ with their hands up and sirens blaring. That was exclusive and raw footage into what was happening, but what’s disappointing is, for the average Snapchat user, that content was buried within the app.
According to a Snap spokesperson, Snapchat can and does highlight breaking news. Snapchat Discover has an algorithm that helps decide the ranking for an individual user’s feed, but a programming team inside Snapchat is able to promote certain Stories that are deemed editorially important. Snapchat’s Official Story on the shooting at YouTube HQ was promoted in the feed as soon as it went live, according to the spokesperson. However, that wasn’t reflected on my feed nor in others.
Not always like this
Snapchat didn’t always use to be this way. Back in December 2015, I first learned of a shooting in San Bernardino, California from a Snapchat Story. I was sitting on the NYC subway when I opened Snapchat Discover and saw “California Shooting” at the top of my feed. The story was “compelling,” as Google’s Danny Sullivan shared at the time.
Snapchat was suddenly a breaking news organization.
“We published this story because we felt that the content, which comes from the L.A. local Story, was newsworthy and held national significance. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families,” Mary Ritti, Snapchat’s vice president of communications, told me at the time.
Over the last two years, Snapchat’s news coverage has grown and impressed me again and again. Snapchat took users to the frontlines of the battle for Mosul and to the shooting in Las Vegas. Beyond disasters, Snapchat showcased people across the U.S. participating in anti-gun walkouts.
But at the same time, Snapchat Discover has grown to feature an overwhelming number of publishers and now other content creators. Some of the featured media outlets, like NBC with its show Stay Tuned, are contributing to its breaking news coverage, and overall adding more content is great for attracting more users and just providing more experiences. But it’s evidently burying timely news.
Tabs may be the answer
There’s a chance Discover could improve if Snapchat decides to introduce tabs. Snapchat is currently testing a feed that would feature tabs for All, Subscription, and Shows. Snapchat also could improve discoverability with in-app notifications, similar to what Twitter has done, or it could simply choose to rank breaking news higher on the Discover feed.
Snapchat moving away from its previous focus on breaking news and in-house storytelling was questioned back in January when the company laid off about two dozen employees on the content team. Snap has since laid off about 120 engineers and about 100 employees in sales and advertising. But despite those cuts, Snapchat’s content division is growing. The company now employs more people on the news team than it did prior to the layoffs, according to a Snap spokesperson. Snap declined to provide the exact number.
So, Snapchat isn’t giving up on breaking news, but it is slipping on showing it off inside the app. Snaps from the scene did spread via news outlets like USA Today and Los Angeles Times embedding Snapchat’s curated news footage in their stories. But when it comes to seeing a reason to stay in the app and read Discover, Snapchat could benefit from showing Kardashian snaps (given how powerful they can be) alongside more breaking news.