The New York Times, which started publishing on Snapchat Discover on Monday after a couple of years of sending out updates through the regular app, sees a couple of audiences for the new product.
One is Snapchat’s native audience. The other is the olds who, like me, might have spent several minutes Monday morning trying to figure out how to fill out the Times’ mini crossword on Snapchat Discover: For them, there is a Times Insider explainer to how to find the Times on Snapchat Discover, how to tap through its offerings, and how to fill out the crossword. For these people, there are even video how-tos. The explainer post’s slug is
— Talya Minsberg (@tminsberg) April 24, 2017
The Times is aiming for a bit of a “morning briefing,” commute-friendly feel with its Discover edition, and it sees a separate mission there from the Snapchat Stories it’s been publishing for the past two years or so. With Discover — where it joins newspapers The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Daily Mail, as well as dozens of other publishers — it hopes it can capture some of the success it’s seen with its Morning Briefing emails (which now have 1.3 million subscribers; plenty of others read on the web or in the app) and its The Daily podcast (which had over 20 million listens in its first two months); you can see a similar goal in the paper’s redesigned pages A2–A3. “We will never pander to the audience,” said Talya Minsberg, Times social strategy editor. “One thing we’ve heard loud and clear is that even though Snapchat pulls a much younger audience, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn the news or see powerful photography.”
The New York Times will publish to Snapchat Discover every weekday morning. A team of about 20 worked on the launch for a couple months; that’s now down to around 10 people who will work on the Discover edition each day, some full time. Monday’s edition included a three-snap version of Mike Isaacs’ story on Uber’s risk-taking; a vertical video story about the fighting in Mosul; a one-snap update on France’s election; a five-item Monday briefing; a condensed version of Bill McKibben’s Sunday editorial on climate change; a “that should be a word” (“bagriculture)”; a three-snap version of a Times Magazine story on Lorde; and a mini crossword (but not the one that ran in the Times’ own app, site, and page A3 on Monday) that you fill in by scribbling with your finger. Minsberg sees the mini crossword as a possible conversion point to the Times’ paid product: Maybe a user gets hooked on it in Snapchat Discover, then gets a digital crossword subscription (less than a dollar a week!), then maybe one day decides to get a digital subscription to the paper too.
For the most part, the Snapchat team is working with editorial staff to repurpose content for the Discover edition — “people on the Snapchat team are going in and editing, rewriting, and reframing content specifically for Snapchat,” Minsberg said. Content from the Opinion pages, however, is an exception. In Discover, it’s explicitly presented as Opinion (unlike the other content in the edition, which isn’t identified as coming from any one section), and it’s never touched by anybody on the Snapchat team. Somebody on the Opinion desk edited down McKibben’s editorial for Discover, and most of the time, there will be no Snapchat-specific edits to Opinion content at all.
The five-item briefing is written by senior staff editor Sean Alfano, who had previously worked on NYT Now and the Times’ longer morning briefing before shifting focus to do the Snapchat briefing. “Five things is pretty limited, compared to the briefings as they exist elsewhere,” he said. “But we don’t have any expectation that we can hold onto you for more than 300 words if you’re 20 years old.” The items in Monday’s edition: Barack Obama’s return from his post-presidential vacation; Trump’s agenda this week; Congress’s return to work; Ann Coulter’s vow to speak at Berkeley this week despite the university administration’s decision to cancel her event; and the Cassini spacecraft’s exploration of Saturn.
It will take time to settle on the right mix of content for Discover; the team will be watching the analytics provided by Snap to see what people are sticking around for and where they’re spending most of their time. “We’re not starting every day thinking we need X number of stories or X number of snaps,” Minsberg said. “There may be times when we have 10 stories across 12 snaps. There may be times when we have 3 stories across 12 snaps.”
As for the actual five-item briefing, “our thinking is that it needs to be as quick and as matter-of-fact as necessary,” said Alfano. “We’re gonna roll with that for the first couple weeks and see what the response is. We’re absolutely open to going with what our audience seems to gravitate to.”