Two popular apps of the moment are taking the journalism world by storm, not just because they are fun to use, but for their potential to unearth some juicy scoops. Secret and Whisper are mobile messaging apps that allow user to post completely anonymous messages to other users. Naturally, posters are encouraged to share their darkest fears and greatest dreams, but they also might be sharing some important news.
For example, Kevin Roose has an interesting tech world story today for New York, that was entirely spawned by a two-sentence message left on Secret. "Google was interested in buying my 5 person company for our team. They hired everyone but me," the post read.
Roose reached out for more information, and got an interview with the jilted employee, who shared a literal sob-filled tale of a tech worker who was left holding the bag while her coworkers went on to high-paying jobs at Google. It's a story about start-up culture; possible pay discrimination and sexism; the inner workings of a corporate giant; and a lot of hurt feelings.
She took her story to Secret for its anonymity because, in her words, "I know how women who fail in this industry are treated." And even after Roose confirmed the details about her company, both the woman and her former employer remain anonymous.
Yet, it seems almost a given that some other journalist will take the ball from Roose and run with it, to get an even bigger story about acquisition. (After all, how many four-man, one-woman companies could Google have acquired recently?) Roose himself admits, "Amy's post has quickly proven that the Secret app – which is something of a lightning rod among tech types – has a function in Silicon Valley." The app is particularly popular among tech workers and media types, so his story confirms its potential as a source of information for business drama.
The rise of Secret, as well as Whisper, as a tool for journalists was the focus of a recent Nieman Journalism Lab article by Caroline O'Donovan. "Gossip mongering in anonymous social networks isn’t the future of journalism, but it sure seems to be part of it," she writes. While Secrets are technically anonymous, the app accesses a user's phone's contacts list, and lets them know if a particular post was submitted by friends or friends of friends. That makes it an app ripe for sleuths to dig up gossip, trade secrets, rumors, and other leads on stories. Whisper provides fewer clues and is more location-based, making it much more difficult to connect the messages to an individual.
However, that hasn't stopped the people behind Whisper from pushing its news potential. Led by its recent hire of Gawker's "viral-traffic whisperer" Neetzan Zimmerman, Whisper has explicitly partnered with BuzzFeed and collaborated with Huffington Post to provide content that can be turned it stories for those sites. "At this point, we have publishers coming in and already sifting through the content for their own purposes, without our involvement," Zimmerman said to O'Donovan. "All we’re trying to do is make that process easier for them." Whisper is happy to help outlets mine their content for stories, and get some free publicity on the way.
That's a stark contrast from Secret, which stated it had no interest in promoting its posts for media stories. “We’re absolutely not looking at partnering with any sort of media company to be a platform for the content our users create,” Secret's cofounder David Byttow said to Nieman. “I would say ultimately, Whisper is a media company, and Secret is a communication company,” he added.
Instead, Secret-based posts will end up on places like New York or Gawker Media's Valleywag. Roose wasn't the only journalist who had the idea to turn the Google gossip into news, as this comment by Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson shows. If you're an enterprising journalist on the hunt for a good story, it seems the secret is out.