You know what social media I purposefully held out on? Snapchat.
I’d seen one too many of my peers get burned by that pesky little instant-messaging system –– either by sending the right snap to the wrong person, or getting that ugly selfie screen-shotted (I’m sure that’s a verb by now, right?).
No way, I scolded myself. Sending unattractive pictures of my face in different discrete locations is not the kind of social media I want to engage in.
And here we are. I’ve succumbed to the inevitability of Snapchat, much to the delight of my closest Millennial friends.
Though I still haven’t figured out all the quirks and mechanics of the app itself, (like what really happens when you swipe left instead of right?), I’ve embraced Snapchat as a tool for news, like the nosey little journalist I am.
Not only is my favorite news organization, National Geographic, highlighted in Snapchat’s Discover section every morning, but there’s now a new feature I can’t stop clicking on: Snapchat Live.
Live is essentially a city spotlight, where one city from –– get this –– around the entire world is selected every few days. Snaps sent with the city’s geotag (a marker identifying the city, swipe right a few times to see yours) are collected and sorted into a story by Snapchat support gurus. The result is a curated, 100-some-second photo-story told from a handful of the city’s denizens, from almost every location (and angle) possible.
As a wanderlust soul stuck in suburban Ohio, I can’t help but smile and laugh along with those Snappers (a new term for Snapchat users, perhaps?) waving and yelling “Hello, from Cairo!” on my tiny little screen. In the past few weeks, I’ve been transported to São Paulo, Brazil, and a dazzling city in the United Arab Emirates. I’ve been taken on intimate boat rides, shown the pyramids of Giza from a lofty rooftop, and seen the sun set on different continents –– without having left my bedroom.
The world is truly a wonderfully small world, after all.
Now, I’ve seen many of these breathtaking sites from textbook stock photos and glossy banners in magazines. But there’s something about this utterly raw, perfectly imperfect footage on Snapchat Live that keeps me coming back for more.
It’s real. It isn’t some doctored postcard sent to seem luxurious, remote, or exclusive to us relatively affluent Americans. Snapchat Live showcases young people, like me, using social media as a tool, a guide, to make our world feel more like a community instead of divided countries. And I admire this emerging form of citizen journalism, for all of its genuine humanness, if you will.
Because when I’m driving around Columbus, I see more of Fifth Avenue traffic and corn-shucking at my local farmer’s market, a crowded movie theater parking lot and an even more crowded Jeni’s ice cream stand than I do the picturesque skyline of downtown plastered onto every travelogue in history. And that’s the kind of story I want to tell, to show to others: the bright, beautiful, undiscovered world in which I live.
Snapchat Live is also being used to capture historic moments and live entertainment events happening around the world; I watched the U.S. Open of Surfing this afternoon. So, don’t be like me –– see what Snapchat is all about today. I believe it’s redefining citizen journalism in the 21st century as we know it.
Bethany N. Bella is studying Journalism, Environmental Studies and Cultural Anthropology at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at bethanybella.com.
The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.