How the Washington Post Uses TikTok, and What That Means for GenZ News Consumption

Author profile picture

@asandreAndreas Sandre

Comms + policy. Author of #digitaldiplomacy (2015), Twitter for Diplomats (2013). My views here.

GenZ-ers seem to like political and international news so journalists are now moving to TikTok.

When we think about the news on social media, we often think about Twitter. The platform, founded by Jack Dorsey, Ev Williams, and Biz Stone, has been for years the go-to place for reporters, breaking news, media outlets, and everything in between. Oftentimes, news breaks first on Twitter.
Facebook is also a great place for news. Or is it? It certainly is a place that has polarized the debate around the news, the nature of fake news and how it spreads, and the role of tech platforms in the fight against dis- and mis-information.
But what about TikTok? When we think about the news we certainly don’t think about TikTok, the Chinese platform that is aggressively expanding around the world while catching the attention of regulators, and the skepticism of governments.
But TikTok is now becoming a fertile ground for the media industry to experiment and to better embrace the youngest generations of news consumer, in particular GenZ.

Enter The Washington Post's TikTok channel, with its famous tag line: “We are a Newspaper.”

With almost 380,000 followers, the success of the paper’s TikTok channel — thanks mostly to its TikToker-in-chief Dave Jorgenson— has shown the great potential of the growing platform and its viral/short video format to move the news business forward and embrace a wider audience.
The Washington Post is not the only one to have embraced the platform. USA Today, with almost 360,000 followers, is trailing the growth of the Washington Post and has been very succesful on the platform thanks to its TikToker-duo-exceptionel and in-house creators Alex Connor and N’dea Yancey-Bragg.
The Telegraph and The Dallas Morning News are also experimenting on TikTok, and many media outlet, as are “tech man” Lance Ulanoff, the New York Times’ Taylor LorenzLiz Plank of Vox, CNN London correspondent Max Foster, Victoria Leandra at VICE News, and other journalists and reporters.
To note that Francesco Zaffarano, senior social media editor at The Telegraph has created a Google Doc with a list of reporters and media outlets on TikTok (updated as of February 2020).

One of the most recent additions is Suzanne Kianpour of the BBC with her newly-launched NewsWithSuz.

“The digital space is constantly evolving,” Kianpour told me.
“As journalists tasked with informing the public we have to stay ahead of the curve while being creative about how to keep the audience’s attention long enough to deliver to them what they need to know.”
“TikTok is like someone has invited themselves over for a dinner party,” Jorgenson told Christine Schmidt at the Nieman Lab in June last year.
“It’s great company. We’ve been invited and we want to get invited back. We’re bringing a bottle of wine” — uh, maybe fruit juice is better here — “or some good stories because we’re a newspaper and we just want to help make it better.”
Jorgenson added: “In general, a good TikTok video is one you want to keep watching…If they are reluctantly liking us, that’s the greatest compliment you can get. What makes TikTok so great is you can say, ‘I’ve never thought of that [meme], but I’m still going to try to do my own version of it.’”
According to Zaffarano, “[N]ews organizations’ success on TikTok will depend on our effort to understand the audience populating that platform.” He believes “2020 will be the year more publishers play around with lipsync and filters. But I hope we’ll also spend more time asking Gen Zers what they really want from us. I’ll definitely try my best.”
Journalists, reporters, and media outlets have been exploring ways to make the news more appealing to GenZ, even when it comes to political and international news, while building a large, loyal audience.
In particular, “TikTok has been flooded with political content in recent weeks,” as Georgia Wells and Emily Glazer wrote in the Wall Street Journal in early January.
Wells and Glazer explained: “Videos tagged #Trump2020 were viewed more than 200 million times in the last three weeks of 2019, according to the app’s tally. Posts about Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders are also popular, but on a smaller scale. Videos tagged #Bernie2020 received about 24 million views over the same period.”
And the thirst for political and international news seems so high that “[A]dvisers from both major parties now say they are looking at ways to use the app as a platform for reaching young voters,” according to Wells and Glazer.
Why is this important?
In a recent report detailing Gen Z ‘s online habits and interests, Los Angeles-based marketing and insights firm Zebra IQ included TikTok among the most favorite apps for GenZ, an extremely appetizing market estimated at around 2.4 billion young people worldwide (aged 9–24 year old), about 32% of the world population, and with a $44 billion spending power.
“It’s not easy to build and maintain a brand strategy on TikTok, but it’s worth it,” Zebra IQ Tiffany Zhong cautions in a recent tweet. “Brands should explore building a TikTok account — not saying it’s for everyone, but you will have first mover advantage since not many brands are on TikTok yet,” she was quoted as saying in a Medium article by Matt Schlicht. “You just need to understand the vibe and culture of TikTok really well if you want to produce content on there, since TikTok is unlike any other platform.”
Embracing the platform hasn’t been easy. For brands as well as for the news industry.
Especially when it comes to politics, since, for example, the platform does not allow paid political ads.
“The decision to allow paid ads into the community experience is one we treat carefully,” writes Blake Chandlee, TikTok Vice President of Global Business Solutions, in a press release last year.
“We’re in the early days of introducing and experimenting with different ad formats, and we’re exploring a variety of opportunities for brand partners.”
Chandlee explains that “While we explore ways to provide value to brands, we’re intent on always staying true to why users uniquely love the TikTok platform itself: for the app’s light-hearted and irreverent feeling that makes it such a fun place to spend time.”
“In that spirit, we have chosen not to allow political ads on TikTok,” he says.
“Any paid ads that come into the community need to fit the standards for our platform, and the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience. To that end, we will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state, or local level — including election-related ads, advocacy ads, or issue ads.”
Ivan Mehta explains on The Next Web: “Interestingly, the app already had a similar policy for India before this year’s assembly elections.” He points out that this new announcement “is related to the US and Europe region.”
It is unclear how this decision will affect whether politicians and world leaders will eventually join TikTok. So far very few are on it! But, as mentioned before, more and more political content has popped up on TikTok, including reporters trying to change the way we — or rather GenZ — consumes the news. Especially in the US, and both in terms of presidential election coverage and the impeachment trial.
Also interesting is the way journalists are reporting about international and foreign affairs news.
The way the news is reported on TikTok, it seems, revolves around engagement. Journalists are more interested in starting an open conversation around political and international topics, including for example the coronavirus, and let users on TikTok react or digest the quick videos.
TikTok is certainly a more entertaining way of looking at the news, without however lowering the quality of the news or the impact news have on our daily lives, whether its about the elections in the US or Brexit in Europe.
And attracting the attention of users and entertaining them with viral videos is yet one of the biggest challenges.

Tags

The Noonification banner

Subscribe to get your daily round-up of top tech stories!