When journalism meets Snapchat

is assistant editor in the BBC News impact team

On the face of it they are unlikely bedfellows. One is a tough, long-running, investigative TV current affairs programme which has won just about every journalistic award on the planet in the past 62 years - going by the name of BBC Panorama. The other is a young upstart much beloved of teenagers to exchange funny, clever, sometimes risqué photos which disappear after a few seconds. This is Snapchat. So what are the two doing together?

Well, veteran TV reporter John Sweeney has been making his way across Europe with a small production team, following refugees and migrants from Greece through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary to Austria. The resulting programme, of compelling TV journalism, will be aired this week. So far, so normal. 

But what if, instead of gathering footage and then editing it madly into a documentary, we, the BBC, were to send over interesting clips, pieces to camera, mini-reports to give a flavour of what was happening during filming? And what if we were to try putting that material on to one of the fastest growing platforms for video - and one which might interest a rather different set of people than the folk who normally watch Panorama on domestic TV?

That’s why, thanks to social engagement producer Ravin Sampat, John Sweeney has been sending photos and video snippets from Hungary, Serbia and Greece - mini-interviews with refugees and migrants who have just made it across the sea; makeshift sodden camps in Belgrade main square; families waiting at border crossings - and publishing them to Snapchat. Snapchat, by the way, has just pulled up next to Facebook and matched it for the quantity of video being uploaded per day. 

Simple graphics on Snapchat help add context

Is it successful, and will it change journalism? Well, a few commentators have encouragingly used the ‘G’ word - ground-breaking - and that has felt good. The video itself is crude by most standards. There is no real editing on Snapchat, so the only way of creating a narrative is to “sticky-tape” (virtually, of course) the short clips you take in the app together, creating a slightly old-school, jerky, rough feel with the benefit of simple captions and titles to explain what’s going on. 

It is exciting because programmes can now very easily reveal the inner workings of their production process. Documentaries do not just magically appear - there is travelling, and planning, and hotels, and waiting, and rain - and a thousand stories which might not get into the finished film.

The material for SnapChat was also tweeted on the @BBCPanorama account, and there is a compilation of the Snapchat videos on Facebook

Refugees try to board a bus