10 Feb

TikTok and Journalism: The Washington Post is Leading the Way. (Wait. What??)

By Erika Turan, APR

TikTok. It’s a new, yet wildly popular social media platform. It’s all videos that are 60 seconds or less. And Gen Z is crazy about it. There are 800 million users worldwide (and counting), and 41% are ages 16 – 24.

The app is not without controversy. There are parents pulling their hair out over the amount of time their children spend on it (the average user is on TikTok for a whopping 52 minutes a day). Then, there is the scuttle over its Chinese ownership and concerns about the Chinese government’s access to data mined by Chinese-owned companies.

Educate yourselves on those issues, but also take a moment to know that TikTok is where brands, celebrities, and even major newspapers are connecting with a new audience in creative and innovative ways.

I recently sat in on a webinar hosted for alumni of DePauw University. I wanted to learn from Dave Jorgenson, a fellow English major from DePauw who now leads The Washington Post’s TikTok account. This Gen Xer learned a lot about what a Millennial is doing to help a bulwark of a newspaper connect with Gen Z.

Here’s the thing to know about TikTok: the videos are fast. They often feature music or dancing. They’re often silly or irreverent or just a stream of consciousness. There’s good there too, with influencers seeking to help others. Or, they’re just plain, um, WHY did someone need to make this video?

How on Earth does The Washington Post fit in? And why would it want to?

The answers go to the core of what The Washington Post does: report news. Declining newspaper readership, skyrocketing use of social media as a news source (and not always a reliable one at that), coupled with The Washington Post’s savvy realization that they would need to go where young people are if they want to connect with them, led them to become the first newspaper on TikTok.

The Washington Post may have been the first newspaper to join TikTok, but their success on the platform opened the door for other media outlets to follow. CBS News, NBC News, USA Today are all among those now on TikTok.

The Washington Post is the mac daddy though, with more than 784k followers tuning in to see what the newspaper posts twice daily, garnering more than 30M likes.

Jorgenson explained that the goal in The Washington Post’s posts is to find some bit of news the paper is covering and work it into a TikTok video. The Post seeks to fight disinformation, be relevant and timely, connect with a younger and more diverse audience, and to do it all with a sense of humor. Jorgenson himself has become a viral sensation, with a passionate online following.

At The Washington Post, it takes 3 – 4 hours to develop a TikTok, an hour for approvals to happen, and then the video is up and running. In a nod to their true understanding of how to talk to a TikTok audience, the Washington Post didn’t let itself follow the tempting path of creating a TikTok bio that’s full of key messages. Instead, it simply reads: “We’re a newspaper.”

During the election campaign, the Post managed to get nearly every presidential candidate to appear in TikTok videos. If you don’t already follow The Washington Post on TikTok, maybe it’s a thing to do. In the meantime, here’s Jorgenson explaining:

  • Why the USPS was so far behind in holiday deliveries
  • His favorite Christmas movie (which is actually him explaining how Congress passed the COVID relief bill)
  • The approval of the Moderna vaccine (and if you’re wondering if a guy in a three-piece suit and Pop Smoke’s “Candy Shop” are essential to this, the answer is yes.)
  • The 2020 Summer Olympics still being called the 2020 Summer Olympics. Despite, you know, 2021.

The Washington Post’s TikToks are creative, funny, informative, and endlessly watchable, which is what makes them a great fit for the platform. They’re also an extension of The Post’s 143-year-old brand. Could TikTok videos be an extension of yours?