A letter to Peter Hamby: Ideas for the Future of Snapchat.

Last week my digital journalism class had the pleasure of video-chatting with Head of News for Snapchat, Peter Hamby, who took some time out of his busy day to talk with us about the impact/future of Snapchat Live Stories, a relatively new phenomena that is transforming how younger audiences consume news.

When Snapchat was first released in Sept. 2011, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted just how huge it would become only a few years later. By Nov. 2015, the number of photos and videos sent per day reached 6 billion. That number has bumped up already this year to 7 billion.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m on Snapchat almost constantly. I send dozens of photos daily and usually have a “story” a few days a week. I haven’t retrieved a lot of news from Snapchat until very recently, particular the election coverage. I never took Snapchat that seriously so I never referred to them as a legitimate news source. Now that Snapchat has become so much more dynamic, I tune in more frequently to see what stories they’ve covered. Regarding my news diet specifically, I receive news updates regularly from CNN, Boston Globe, and NYT. I also follow a lot of news outlets on Twitter, so I check that as well.

I really enjoy Snapchat Discover pages. I enjoy reading up more on entertainment and trending news rather than hard news, which Discover is great for. My favorites include Cosmopolitan (of course), People, Vice, Buzzfeed, MTV, Food Network and iHeartRadio.

I think this is just the beginning for Snapchat. There are many more opportunities to continue growing and being one of the nation’s widely used apps. And with over 100 million predominantly young users, it would be silly for organizations not to take some part in this. Especially because this app is one of the few things that has this population’s near undivided attention; something news organizations in particular have struggled with obtaining. But as many opportunities as there are for Snapchat, there are issues that tag along.

  • Mature material being seen by young users.

Live Stories are an awesome feature and gives people all over the globe an opportunity to share their perspective. I think this fits perfectly with our shift towards globalization. However there are occasional stories that are gruesome, like for instance, San Bernadino. In order to fulfill the needs of Snapchat’s news consumers, stories need to be told in their entirety and truthfully, but you don’t want 10–14 year old users seeing traumatic images and videos. I think the solution to this issue would be to incorporate some sort of parental control option that can filter out what information is too mature for younger eyes.

  • Potential invasion of privacy with cell phone recordings.

In a way, I think now more than ever Snapchat users can become first responders to any sort of local or global event or crisis. It is all too easy nowadays for people to whip out their phones and start recording. This concept has already changed large scale organizations including law inforcement. If it weren’t for cell phone recordings, stories like Eric Garner’s and Sandra Bland’s wouldn’t have been so controversial. But in sensitive spaces like hospitals, homes, and prisons, recording could lead to serious consequences. How this issue would be resolved I’m not so sure. Maybe inserting some type of screening technology could help filter out who is getting an actually story and who isn’t, but because people nowadays are nosey and don’t care to cross ethical boundaries if it benefits them, legal issues are bound to occur.

  • If you want to be become a legitimate news source, hire legitimate journalists.

I think Snapchat has the potential to be where most (if not all) young people get their news. I don’t know exactly how this would work since Snapchat doesn’t include much text, but similarly to how their Discover pages are formatted, a lot of the time there’s a headline photo with a title or some intriguing quote and viewers have the option to scroll downward to read the story. News could follow a similar structure. I also think if Snapchat News chooses to go this route, they should focus more on the story rather than the news outlet.