Before the emergence of digital tools, recording and (especially) transcribing an interview was a tedious affair. The little microcassette tapes were of dubious reliability—and yes, I once had one fail on me during a crucial and contentious encounter. Transcribing was worse, as you’d sit there constantly hitting the “play” and “rewind” buttons, an imprecise process that risked damage to the tape.
I’ve been all-digital for maybe 10 years now. But I didn’t really begin upping my game until I tested my little Olympus recorder in a New Haven hotel room one morning in 2011 only to discover that it was pining for the fjords.
Since then, I have assembled a digital recording toolkit that I hope will be useful for journalists. By now, of course, nearly all of us are recording interviews on our smartphones. But I’ve been surprised by reporters who’ve told me their transcription technique consists of nothing more than playing back the audio on their phones. These tips, I hope, will make it easier for you to record and transcribe. My digital devices are all from Apple, but you should be able to adapt these ideas to whatever you’re using.Recording the Interview
I’ll begin with recording software. I was in a panic that morning in New Haven—so much so that I didn’t even realize that my recently acquired iPhone already had a recording app. So I hopped onto the App Store and found several possibilities. I chose iTalk because it was inexpensive and looked easy, and because it was from Griffin Technology, which has a good reputation.
It turned out that iTalk had everything I needed. When you start it up, you choose from among three levels of recording quality, give the file a name, and hit the big red button. A red bar shows the audio level, providing you with the constant confirmation you crave that, yes, your interview really is being recorded. Time elapsed is prominently displayed, which is great for jotting down (for instance) “great quote on lessons from prison 30:25” so that you can go back to it later.
When you’re done, you can send the AIFF file to yourself using email, Dropbox, or SoundCloud. If it’s a really big file, plug the phone into your Mac and copy it over using iTunes. Even though the file now resides in two separate places, when I’m on the road I can’t relax until I’ve also uploaded it to Google Drive.How to Get Better Audio
When I teach smartphone video to my students, I always stress the importance of good audio. I like to do a compare-and-contrast, starting with a video I made in 2009 about the New Haven Independent, a nonprofit news organization that was the main subject of my 2013 book The Wired City.
Founder and editor Paul Bass sat down with me in a local coffee shop. I fired up my Canon point-and-shoot and began recording. It starts out OK. But before long, Bass is drowned out by the sound of machinery kicking into gear and dishes crashing. My students always laugh (they’re laughing with me, not at me; at least that’s what they tell me), but it pretty much amounts to a demonstration of what not to do.
In 2014 I bought a Røde lav microphone that I could clip onto the lapels of people I was interviewing. The results were immediate and dramatic—this video, featuring journalism activist Josh Stearns, University of New Hampshire journalism professor Meg Heckman (a former student of mine), and Tim Coco, the force behind WHAV, a nonprofit community radio station in Haverhill, Massachusetts, became the “here’s what to do” example that I show my students.
Then, last fall, I was interviewing people for my current book project and had a problem. Every reporter knows the sinking feeling that accompanies a request to do an interview over lunch. It will be loud. It will be awkward. After a particularly bad experience in a busy restaurant, it occurred to me that my lav mic probably worked not just with the iPhone’s Camera app but with iTalk as well. (If you’re thinking this should not have been a revelation to me, I’ll have to agree.)
Sure enough—one of my next interview subjects wanted to meet me not just in a restaurant, but in an Irish pub. We met, and I asked him to clip on the mic. The result was near-perfect audio, even though there was plenty of talking and music in the background.When You’re not Face-to-Face
Back in the 1980s I bought a device from Radio Shack that consisted of a tangle of wires and a suction cup. You’d stick the suction cup on the back of your phone’s listening end and turn on your tape recorder. Go ahead and laugh, but I haven’t come up with as workable a solution since switching to digital. Here, though, are a couple of tips—one simple, one more complex.
The simplest solution is to throw your phone call onto a decent quality Bluetooth speaker, put your smartphone in front of the speaker, and hit “record.” But it’s not quite that straightforward. You need to make your call from a device other than the phone you’re recording on—in my case, my MacBook. Skype, Apple FaceTime, or a Gmail phone call (my preferred method) all work fine. (And time out for a non-technical tip: The first words you should hear on any recording of a phone interview are your own, saying, “I just turned on the recorder. Is that all right with you?”)
Given the ease of recording on my iPhone from a Bluetooth speaker, I’m not sure why I’ve spent so much time fiddling around with an alternative that lets me use my Mac’s own capabilities. Mainly it’s because I’d rather plug in my earbuds and conduct the interview privately rather than blasting it out over a speaker that others might be able to hear. Also, at least in theory, the audio should be a little bit clearer with direct recording.
The solution I’ve come up with isn’t especially cheap, and it’s taken a lot of fiddling. The not-cheap part is a program called Audio Hijack, by a company called Rogue Amoeba. You can set it up to record any audio on your Mac. I especially like it for grabbing non-downloadable audio files from videos so that I transcribe them using one of the tools I describe below. But Audio Hijack can also capture Internet phone calls.
It’s not my intention to go into great detail about how a particular piece of software works. But Audio Hijack is frustrating enough that I think I should offer a few tips. You set up something called a “Session” to establish the parameters of what you are trying to do. One such session is called “Voice Chat”—choose it.
The next screen (above) will show you all sorts of different options to customize your session. You can switch “Application” from Skype to Chrome or Safari (which you’ll need to do if you’re making a Gmail call). While you’re in “Application,” choose “Advanced.” You’ll see that “Split between channels” is turned on, which means that, on playback, you’ll hear your voice through your left earbud and the subject’s voice on the right. I deselected it. Next to “Application” is something called “Channel,” which I’ve set to mono. Ignore the rest. The output device will automatically switch from your internal speakers to headphones once you plug your earbuds in.
Once everything is the way you like it, switch to Skype or your browser, make your call, switch back to Audio Hijack, and hit the red “record” button. I got great results the last time I tried this. But I can’t stress enough that you need to do some tests before trying to record an important interview with this method. Fortunately the settings for your session will be saved, so you won’t have to go through the set-up process every time. (Note: After this article was published, I learned that Rogue Amoeba sells a cheaper, less complex audio-capture program called Piezo. I haven’t tried it, but it may be worth checking out the free trial.)
A screenshot of Transcriptions.From Audio to Text
If you did nothing more than play back your interview using iTalk on your phone, you’d probably be better off than you would have been back in the microcassette era. But the options are limited. For instance, you can move backwards 30 seconds, but not in shorter increments. That’s simply too long an interval when you’re trying to determine if she said “which” or “that” two seconds ago.
I have used two pieces of transcription software with my Mac—Express Scribe, from NCH Software, and Transcriptions, by David Haselberger. With either program, you have the ability to move backward by a few seconds with a keystroke—an enormous convenience that makes the process of transcribing far less tedious. You will wonder how you ever lived without it.
Express Scribe, which is free unless you buy the professional version, which works with a foot pedal (there are some other limitations to the free version as well), has many more features than Transcriptions. It works in the background while you take notes in Microsoft Word. You can speed up or slow down the audio, move it backwards in short increments, and set up hot keys. Virtually every option can be customized. For instance, you might want the audio to move back five seconds when you hit the hot key you’ve set up for that task, whereas I might prefer three seconds.
By contrast, the Transcriptions program, which you can purchase for a nominal fee, is much more basic. Yet I’ve found that it is sufficient for my needs—I can start or stop the audio using hot keys, and I can turn the audio back two seconds with yet another hot key. Two seconds isn’t very much, but it’s often enough. And if you need more, it’s easy enough to keep hitting the key.
Unlike Express Scribe, you have to stay within Transcriptions to type up your interview. But you can save your work at any time, and when you’re done you can pull your text file into another program, or just copy and paste it in Word, Evernote, or whatever.If You’d Rather not Type
There are some significant advantages to doing your own transcribing. Listening to the interview again reinforces the important points, and you don’t have to type up the sections that have no value. On the other hand, transcribing audio is a huge time suck. And if you’re like me, you’re likely to skip over sections that you later decide you need after all.
So if you don’t want to do it yourself, what are your options? Let’s be clear. There is no substitute for a good commercial transcription service. I use one, and the files I get back are nearly perfect. But such services are very expensive. And even though they’re worth every dollar, there are times when you just don’t have the money. Are there any low- (or lower-) cost options if you want to turn the work over to someone else, be it person or machine?
My short answer is “no.” My less short answer is “yes, but.” So let me tease that out a little more.
I have heard about people who’ve played back the audio on their phone’s tinny speaker and let an app on their phone or computer figure it out. In a similar vein, I tried Dragon voice-recognition software from Nuance, but I was so unhappy with the results that I returned the program for a refund after one use. I’m sure Dragon is a fine product for some tasks. But as I understand it, it’s mainly for one person who wants to control his or her computer, and it’s got to get used to your voice. Subjecting Dragon to a different voice every time you use it seems like a recipe for failure.
Nor can I recommend Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, in which you break up your file into short bits and let the crowd transcribe those bits for a price you set. I tried it six years ago and had a lousy experience, possibly because I set the price too low. In any event, it seemed to me that at least some of the Turksters were running my files through voice-recognition software and sending it back to me—looking to get paid—without having even bothered to check their work.
But don’t give up hope. I’ve found that the online service Casting Words does a fairly respectable job. Among other things, it was used to transcribe interviews for a multimedia project called Riptide, an oral history of digital journalism published by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
When I tried Casting Words, I had to re-listen to the interview and make some corrections—not too many, though. On the other hand, the cost was high enough that I found myself wondering if I would have been better off paying a little more to have it done professionally. And I chose the cheapest option, which meant that I had to wait a few weeks before my file was ready.
Which brings me to Trint, a new web-based service that translates your audio file into text while you wait. It’s lightning-fast and it’s cheap, but it’s not as accurate as Casting Words. I’ve made limited use of it and found that it saved me some time and some retyping, though I still had to invest a fair amount of labor. I’d try it again, but only if I had exceptionally clear audio.
The team behind Trint seems energetic and determined to keep improving it. I’d say it’s worth keeping an eye on.Over and Out
I did not discover these tools on my own. In several cases, I got great advice from friends on social media. I’d especially like to acknowledge my Northeastern University colleague John Wihbey, who told me about Casting Words, and Saul Tanenbaum, a media and technology activist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who turned me on to Audio Hijack.
Digital tools have made a journalist’s life easier in multiple ways. Believe me, those of us of a certain age still don’t take email for granted—never mind Google, GPS on our phones, and searchable online public records.
Compared to those advances, the technology of recording and transcribing interviews has not moved forward nearly as much. With a few well-chosen enhancements to your basic smartphone voice recorder, though, you’ll find that your working life can become a little bit easier and a little bit better.
This story originally appeared on the website of Story Bench and is reprinted with permission.
Dan Kennedy is an associate professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, specializing in digital media and alternative business models for news.
Five years after the documentary Page One touched on David Carr’s personal triumphs, Hollywood is preparing a full look at the late New York Times columnist’s life. The project, announced today, will be a six-part AMC miniseries based on Carr’s memoir The Night of the Gun, to be produced in partnership with Sony Pictures Television.
From the announcement:
“I read David’s story when it came out and was wildly entertained by his saga,” says Bob Odenkirk, who will play Carr. “It’s a story of survival filled with pain, crack, journalistic righteousness, abandoned cars, crooks, lies and then there’s the two little girls who saved his life; it’s overstuffed with humanity. I hope to do justice to David’s intellect and his scrappy nature. It’s gonna be crazy… if we do it right.”
Adds Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV: “Carr’s work as a journalist was uncompromising, enlightening and, most of all, always driven by a fundamental quest for the truth. When he turned those skills and values around to focus on his own life as an addict, the result was a stunningly original, compelling and important piece of journalism the likes of which the world had never seen; a simultaneously heartbreaking, funny and inspirational account that redefined the idea of telling a personal story.”
Odenkirk will co-executive produce the series together with Shawn Ryan, whose previous credits include The Shield, and Odenkirk-Provissiero partner Marc Provissiero. Attached as writers are Ryan and Eileen Myers.
In 2012, we sat down with Carr and he told us about his First Big Break:
At Newsgeist Europe this past weekend, a few dozen journalists, executives, technologists, and media thinkers assembled once again to dish on the future of news. The mostly secret, mostly male, event played a significant part in the development of Google’s AMP last year. The latest event, held in Bilbao, Spain, generated some good conversation and observations from the small group of attendees. Here are a few of their tweets.
— On Saturday, Bastian Obermayer, one of the journalists behind the Panama Papers, took the stage to talk about the project and why collaboration was core to pulling it off.
— Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (@rasmus_kleis) June 4, 2016
— Kate Day (@kate_day) June 4, 2016
— PeterBale (@PeterBale) June 4, 2016
— Other topics of conversation: analytics, monetization, “trust,” and of course, Snapchat.
— Léa Steinacker (@leasteinacker) June 4, 2016
Future of journalism should engage senses other than sight and hearing. That’s how contemporary art forms can help. #nge16
— Hossein Derakhshan (@h0d3r) June 4, 2016
— Hossein Derakhshan (@h0d3r) June 6, 2016
— Gadi Lahav (@gadilahav) June 4, 2016
—Here’s another collection of takeaways from Charlie Beckett, media professor at The London School of Economics and Political Science.
— Last, here’s a slide deck from a Newsgeist presentation by Esra Dogramaci, a digital consultant working with BBC, on social video and how publishers can do it right.
10 things I learned about Social video from Esra Dogramaci
Photo of Newsgeist 2016 session by Nicolas L. Fromm used with permission.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Knight Foundation supported Newsgeist. Knight supports the U.S. version of the conference, not the European version.
And beginning with the October issue of Vanity Fair, Crosley will be on board as a contributing editor, succeeding book columnist Elissa Schappell as the publication’s chronicler of “Hot Type.” She knows the literary beat from all angles, having spent a dozen years in book publishing, mostly with Vintage/Anchor Books. The announcement of her appointment was made today.
As media blogger’s luck would have it, Crosley is also the latest to submit to Elle magazine’s fun weekly column “Open Tabs.” Since we strongly believe that a lot can be learned by which web pages a person is glancing at, we offer you an excerpt from her June 3 rundown:
“A Sudden Illness” by Laura Hillenbrand – This is one of my favorite essays of all time. I’ve used it to teach narrative non-fiction. I needed to send it to one of my old students and so that’s why it’s open. Long live Laura Hillenbrand!
The essay was published in the July 7, 2003 edition of The New Yorker. Schappell revealed last month via Facebook that she was moving on from Vanity Fair.
Jacket cover courtesy: Picador
A couple Revolving Door items for you this afternoon, involving Vice and Real Simple. Details are below.
- Vice has promoted Nomi Ernst Leidner from executive producer of Viceland to senior vp for development. She previously worked for MTV News.
- Carrie Reynolds has joined Real Simple as vp, integrated sales for Real Simple. She previously worked for XO Group and Nylon.
Malcolm Gladwell is moving his unique takes from the written world to the audio realm with the launch of Revisionist History, a new podcast from the Panoply network.
History will feature Gladwell reexamining overlooked or misunderstood people, places and events from the past.
The series debuts June 16, with a new episode every Thursday for a total of 10 weeks.
Bloomberg Pursuits has named Nikki Ekstein travel editor. She most recently served as travel news editor for Travel + Leisure.
Prior to her time with T+L, Ekstein served as a travel correspondent for Food & Wine and a contributor to Serious Eats.
“Our readers are passionate about travel, and Nikki’s the perfect person to expand our coverage,” said Pursuits editor Emma Rosenblum, in an announcement. “She brings expertise, taste, and ace reporting. We’re thrilled to have her on board.”
BuzzFeed has decided to drop an ad deal between it and the Republican National Committee (RNC) because of Donald Trump. We don’t say this often, but well done, BuzzFeed.
In a memo to staffers, BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti said that while the RNC had signed a deal with BuzzFeed to “spend a significant amount on political advertisements slated to run during the fall election cycle,” BuzzFeed was pulling out of the agreement because Trump is a truly awful person.
The RNC package was worth about $1.3 million to BuzzFeed, so yes, “significant amount” is accurate.
“Earlier today Buzzfeed informed the RNC that we would not accept Trump for President ads and that we would be terminating our agreement with them,” wrote Peretti, in the memo obtained by Politico. “The Trump campaign is directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States and around the world and in some cases, such as his proposed ban on international travel for Muslims, would make it impossible for our employees to do their jobs.”
Time Inc. has made some changes to the Southern Living marketing team. Details are below.
- Jennifer Staiman has been named vp of marketing. She most recently worked served as vp, integrated marketing for Time Inc.
- Tricia Solimeno has joined as director of integrated marketing. She previously served in this same role for Time Inc.
- Claire Rock has been promoted from associate marketing director to marketing director. Rock has been with Southern Living since 2011.
It’s hard to prove or disprove allegations of media bias, or to notice any change in how global issues are covered, globally. Calls of too little or too much coverage are frequently anecdotal, and the takes from indignant journalists no more data-driven.
These debates over media representation are tough to answer definitively without data. How, for instance, has the language changed (if at all) across media coverage of Ethiopia and its detention of activists? How would non-specialists without advanced technical knowhow seeking to write about these issues around online media even begin to undertake this sort of analysis?
Global Voices is teaming up with MediaCloud on a two-year project supported through a Google Digital News Initiative grant — under the working title NewsFrames — to develop editorial workflows and build complementary set of digital tools that will allow writers and researchers both within and outside the Global Voices community to explore over time how often, and how, news topics are covered.
“For a long time, I’ve wanted to try to put more data and quantitative analysis behind some of the claims and questions we ask around underrepresented and misrepresented stories in online spaces,” Ivan Sigal, executive director of Global Voices, told me. “We have the chance to investigate those stories occasionally when we’re lucky enough to work with data scientists in our community to do big data research, but we can’t do it on a regular basis.”
The collaboration with Media Cloud opens up the possibility for more Global Voices contributors to do that kind of work on a regular basis. Media Cloud, a joint project from MIT’s Center for Civic Media and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, is an open source platform that provides a massive data set of news sources and tools centered around analyzing how news gets covered. As regular readers of Nieman Lab may already know, Media Cloud data has been a useful resource for big-picture questions, such as whether stories around Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore were framed positively or negatively.
Media Cloud and Global Voices both have origin stories that involve Ethan Zuckerman, the director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media (and new MIT professor) — though Sigal notes the two “have a lot in common in terms of trying to understand media ecosystems.” Founded by Zuckerman and then Berkman Center fellow Rebecca MacKinnon in 2004, the nonprofit Global Voices is an online platform powered by a largely volunteer community of authors that, among other initiatives, publishes news and opinion from citizen media in many languages. It showcases sources outside mainstream media and emphasizes a non-English-centric approach.
With the NewsFrames project, the focus is as much on building a product as it is on figuring out the editorial questions the tool is meant to address, and developing an editorial process that will allow people to use the tool in a way that will generate actual stories, of actual value to readers around the world. The Global Voices team and researchers at Media Cloud are in the process of brainstorming what features the tool that best serves these purposes should have (can multiple people share and track the same topic search? can the tool aggregate data from all topic searches?) and what it should look like (does it have its own space, domain? is it compatible with WordPress? will it still require some training to use?).
Sigal emphasized that as with any project in its infancy, early conversations with potential users could reshape it, and sketched out for me possible use cases for the tool. For instance, a writer looking to cover Ethiopia and anti-terror legislation there might set up a series of queries on specific topics and countries in Media Cloud to see how others are covering the issue, and track that search over time. Is more of the online discussion centered around “terrorists,” or are there stories about activists and human rights?
NewsFrames could allow for meta-analysis. The clamor over whether the November attacks in Paris or the ones in Beirut the evening before received drastically uneven coverage, Sigal said, began early with a Global Voices piece by Lebanese blogger Joey Ayoub. Will the heated conversations around media bias change media coverage if there’s another succession of attacks?
“We have a lot of ideas and notions, and there’s a lot of testing, but we are really interested in trying to create something for building and managing queries and research topics over time, and doing that collaboratively,” Sigal said. “One of the challenges of Media Cloud is that it’s built for specialists and researchers and is not so easy for people who aren’t familiar with the interface to use. The hope is to bring these questions and the research methodology a step closer to other people.”
Initially that group will be Global Voices writers and editors, but Sigal said he could envision a body of research made available to nonprofit and advocacy organizations and other news outlets, and even, down the line opportunities to monetize through providing custom research for groups interested in specific topics.
“Our approach is being very aware of the fact that it’s possible to build tech that doesn’t work, or is only of use to a smaller number of people, or costs a lot of money to maintain, and so forth. So we’re trying to put equal emphasis on the editorial side as on the tech side,” Sigal said. “Our brainstorming sessions have put some pressure on the ideas to see whether they survive first contact with different use cases. Rather than start with the tech and trying to get people to use it, we’re starting with the question of what has value to our editorial team.”
Global Voices is currently looking for a project director to oversee NewsFrames, and will bring on a few more dedicated staffers as the project progresses, while working with existing Global Voices editors and contributors and the Media Cloud team.
Photo of a “newspaper world” by Matt Clark used under a Creative Commons license..
Snapchat wants to be a news source, so I spent the last week on a Snapchat-only diet. I gave up my breakfast routine of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Politico Playbook and tried to survive on the light snacks from the app’s Discover providers. In the words of the cliché-loving journalists who write for Snapchat’s content partners, the results may surprise you!
Although I’m a middle-aged journalism professor and definitely not a member of Snapchat’s target demographic, I got a good mix of news and features from the channels for The Wall Street Journal and CNN. I found the best was ESPN, which has smartly adapted its videos and articles to the unique platform. But other Snapchat Discover providers offered a forgettable stream of listicles and clickbait, often set to annoying music.
I found the ads surprisingly cool. They are crisply edited videos that have been customized for the small screen. Even when they are advertising something I’m not interested in (such as, say, the movie Warcraft), they’re interesting to watch.
The big drawback was old content that didn’t get updated very often. Also, many of the Snapchat providers never ventured beyond the fluff that news company execs seem to believe millennials want. BuzzFeed has some serious news reporting on the web, but its Snapchat channel offers a steady diet of frivolousness such as “16 Golden Retriever Puppies Who Are Total Dweebs” and “What Does Your Vagina Look Like?”
There’s a recent New Yorker cartoon that shows a man dead in a chair holding a phone with Snapchat. His head has exploded, leaving just a plume of smoke. Beside his body is a guy in a white lab coat explaining what happened to a cop: “Looks like another case of someone over forty trying to understand Snapchat.”
That cartoon rings true with me. My kids and my students love Snapchat, but I’ve been perplexed by it. Part of the reason is its spare user interface, which lacks familiar features like a navigation bar. The app assumes that users will do some exploring to figure out how it works. Yet when I launched it and looked for the news, it didn’t take long to figure out the two main sources are the Discover channels and Live Stories. For this review I’m focusing just on Discover.
I started with CNN because I figured it would have some real news. Last Monday, the top story was the the boy who fell into a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati zoo, which led a zookeeper to kill the gorilla. The story was headlined “It Was Not a Good Scene.”
The gorilla story had an interesting distillation of videos, text, and photos, but like many of the Snapchat articles, it suffered from weak writing that dumbed-down the content. It had a cliché lead (“The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is mourning the loss of one of its own”) and rather than just tell what happened, it awkwardly broke the story into a Q&A: What happened? What was the zoo’s response? What’s been the reaction?
(Memo to media execs developing products for millennials — which is to say, all media execs: Millennials are smart, they care about news, and you don’t have to be condescending to reach them.)
The CNN app also had an annoying music loop on the first screen of every story: a gloomy dirge for the dead gorilla and an upbeat tune for the 12-year-old accepted to college. (I wonder what they’ll play when the Fed raises interest rates.) The music is another example of how CNN seems out of touch with the audience. No, every story doesn’t need a soundtrack.
Overall, though, the CNN channel had a good mix of interesting and important news such as single-screen headlines on Gary Johnson being picked as the Libertarian nominee for president and a short feature (actually, just about everything on Discover is short) on income inequality.
I also found the Journal’s channel to be substantive, with a good selection of stories that should appeal to 20-somethings and even a 50-something like me. The Journal’s offerings included an abbreviated “What’s News” column and condensed versions of feature stories.
Instead of music, the Journal’s annoying pander to millennials was its habit of bolding words in every story. The Journal editors seem to think this makes the millennials more willing to read. But there’s too much bolding and it actually makes the stories harder to read.
ESPN’s channel had the most native feel of the Snapchat providers. It offered concise highlights, fresh news stories, and lively features. It was like getting SportsCenter on your phone, but without the wisecracking announcers.
The ESPN channel opened each day with a revealing clip from the day’s biggest story (for most of last week that meant the NBA playoffs). The main story was a mix of video clips, text, and photos. The feature stories were fresh and timely, like one on how the Golden State Warriors’ coach had gotten so frustrated in Game 1 that he karate-chopped his clipboard in half.
I also checked out Snapchat’s other Discover channels, which include Cosmopolitan, MTV, People, Sweet, the Daily Mail, Vice, National Geographic, and iHeart Radio. They were all pretty devoid of news. The Daily Mail covered a lot of celebrities I’d never heard of. The other channels all offered pretty much the same mix of listicles and celeb photos. Did I read “Why This Mom’s Note to 3 Teens in a Local Starbucks is Going INSANELY VIRAL” on BuzzFeed or Cosmo? I can’t recall.
And when the less-newsy channels had something substantive, they would often give it a lame headline. One NatGeo offering was “Who built these mysterious stone circles? The answer may surprise you.”
(Spoiler: Neanderthals. I was not surprised.)
One thing that did surprise me about Snapchat Discover: the ads. They were videos of 10-15 seconds that fit well with the lighter millennialized content: movie trailers, ads for lipstick, the X Games, Burberry cologne. In some cases, the ads were more interesting than the stories.
After a week with Snapchat, I went back to the Times and the Post to see what I had missed. I found that the Discover providers had covered many of the same stories that got prominent play by the big papers. The Snapchat channels even had some good enterprise stories that explored politics and business news in some depth. But with so few stories from serious news organizations each day, many significant topics (an uptick in the national death rate, for example) got little or no coverage.
The biggest problem with Snapchat Discover was timeliness. Even with content from big 24-hour-a-day news organizations such as CNN and the Journal, I found I couldn’t rely on Discover for the latest news because the content seemed to be updated just once a day. News of Muhammad Ali’s death broke early Saturday, but seven hours later, Snapchat’s CNN channel was still carrying a single screen that said he had been hospitalized.
Recent reports say Snapchat is about to release a new design for Discover, possibly this week. A Pew report last week said only 17 percent of Snapchat users get news from the app. That means there’s plenty of room to grow, but it also suggests that many uses don’t think of the app as a news source.
My week with Snapchat Discover showed that as the company’s executives expand and overhaul the news platform, they can broaden their audience by offering a wide range of content, including more substantial news. They should resist the urge to dumb-down their content. If they do, the results may be surprising!
Photo by AdamPrzezdziek used under a Creative Commons license.
Time Inc. is honoring Muhammad Ali this morning with a live, one-hour special. Muhammad Ali: A Tribute To the Greatest can be seen on EW.com, People.com, SI.com, Time.com, Facebook.com/SportsIllustrated and Facebook.com/Time at 10 a.m. ET.
The show will be hosted by Maggie Gray and feature commentary from Neil Leifer (the legendary photographer who captured the iconic image of Ali standing over Sonny Liston), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reverend Al Sharpton, Bernard Hopkins, Tim Layden and more.
The special will air live from Time Inc.’s studios in Lower Manhattan.
“Muhammad Ali was a hero to Time Inc. viewers and readers across multiple titles, so it seems natural and appropriate for Sports Illustrated, People, and Time to partner on this live special program about his life and his legacy,” said Time Inc. chief content officer Norm Pearlstine, in a statement.
NPR is reporting that photojournalist David Gilkey and interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna were both killed while on assignment for the network in Afghanistan.
Gilkey and Tamanna were traveling with a unit of the Afghan army when the Humvee they were in was hit by rocket propelled grenades. The driver of the vehicle, a soldier in the Afghan National Army, was also killed. The Taliban was behind the attack and subsequent firefight.
“David has been covering war and conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11,” said Michael Oreskes, NPR’s senior vp of news and editorial director, in a statement. “He was devoted to helping the public see these wars and the people caught up in them. He died pursuing that commitment. As a man and as a photojournalist, David brought out the humanity of all those around him. He let us see the world and each other through his eyes.”
A couple Revolving Door items for you this morning, involving Politico and NBC News. Details are below.
- Megan Cassella is joining Politico as a reporter covering international trade. She previously worked for Reuters.
- Hans Nichols is joining NBC News as a correspondent focusing on the Pentagon. He most recently served as an international correspondent for Bloomberg News.