“I Get My News On TikTok”: The Trend Local News Can’t Ignore
This is Part 1 in a series of articles I’m working on to look at the fast-growing trend of people who say they get their news either solely, or mostly, on TikTok. We’re going to look into trends, statistics, and give examples of people already in that space doing news.
It was 1986. I was in middle school, just having come out of gym class. I walked into my next classroom and the room was full of students crying.
The teacher snapped at me, “Why aren’t you in your homeroom?”
I started crying because everyone else was crying (and I just got yelled at!), and said through tears, “This is my next class!”
“Haven’t you heard? THE CHALLENGER EXPLODED!?”, a bossy student yelled at me.
More yelling so more tears from me.
I wandered through the halls trying to remember my homeroom in the haze of “What do you mean it exploded?”
When I got to my homeroom, the students all watched as I watched what they had already seen – the launch – the smoke – the confusion – the understatement of “Obviously a major malfunction” from NASA audio.
It’s hard to imagine now there was a time it took so long for bad news to get to someone.
In an ironic twist of fate looking ahead to what my career would become, I remember sitting at dinner that night with the TV on the dinner table (yes, it used to be that way), and pushed back my plate demanding “Why are they showing this at dinner time?? Who can watch that and eat?”. I ran to my room.
In 35 years, we’ve gone from missing the big story because of gym class to a gym glass filled with phones and TikTok dances. An #OOTD for Instagram. A live from Facebook notifying you immediately something was going down.
What hasn’t changed much? How local news looks. 2 anchors. A set. A meteorologist. Dramatic music. Swooshes on animations. The sets got nicer, the technology looks better, yet there’s a hidden movement happening outside of the studio lights.
“I get my news on TikTok”.
When the nail technician told me that during a recent pedicure, I was floored. I quizzed her like a census taker on her news viewing habits. What would make her watch local news on TV? Nothing. She won’t do it. Not even during severe weather? No. Where do you learn about news other than TikTok? Stuff that pops up in her social feeds. What about knowing if the news site is legit or not? She pondered if any news was legit.
I explained to her that statement in terms she could understand. I said, “Imagine if you told someone you were a nail tech. They told you they won’t get their nails done because those places spread fungus. You explain that your salon has rigorous rules and procedures to make sure it’s cleaned after every client. They still don’t believe you. You “all” do that. You go on to say you invested in technology to make sure the toughest of germs can’t survive. They shrug and say they still don’t trust you.”
That’s what we’re dealing with in local news, I tell her. Her eyes were wide, and her mouth was speechless. She nodded in understanding and finally said “That sucks. I get it now.”
Then I saw this same topic come up in a Producer Facebook Group. Hard-working broadcast producers telling stories of how they heard someone say, “I get my news on TikTok.”
For a while, TikTok felt the same way as walking into Forever 21. I didn’t belong there, I was too old to be there, and people assumed I was there for my daughter or son, but the doors were open.
TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes per day on TikTok, according to recent research. What would we give for 52 minutes of solid viewing of our broadcast platform daily, right?
– 1 Billion Monthly Active Users
– 80 Million Active Users in the United States
– 80% of Users are 16-34 Years Old
– 60% are Female, 40% Male
It’s so popular that when President Trump threatened to ban TikTok, users were Googling “How to VPN to Canada” so they didn’t lose their daily dose.
Then I worked at a station that wanted a TikTok presence. With only the knowledge that it’s a place where people do silly dances and HR-reporting level posts, I had no choice but to try TikTok. For the life of me, as a Gen X’er, all I can hear is “TikTok ya don’t stop” music from the group Color Me Bad every time I open it. And a little secret? I’m opening it more and more.
I tried and I failed. It took some adjusting (and guidance from younger employees) to understand it. I tried and I went viral. God help me the day I had a TikTok go viral I was so excited. I get the “rush”. 2.8 million people viewed my video. When would I EVER do ANYTHING that would reach that many people? The truth is? You are only as good as your last viral TikTok.
The good thing about trying “news” or “news-related items” on TikTok is that you can try and fail, and the audience doesn’t complain about it. If you do a bad TikTok without the right words, trends, song, topic – you just won’t get views. You try something new on air? That dedicated audience is there with email in hand sending off a nasty note.
Here’s another thing about TikTok I’ve found. In a world of second and third screen usage (I prefer 3 – TV, Mobile Device, Laptop), when you are on TikTok, you stop watching TV, or the boiling pot of water for dinner, or the dogs. You don’t even hear it. You are zoned in and focused on what you are watching. Scroll after scroll after scroll. A grizzly bear could walk through my bedroom, and I wouldn’t notice because I’m so focused on the screen.
Facebook, IG, Twitter – they don’t do that. They are supplemental options to the rest of your environment.
TikTok IS the environment. We, as local news organizations, can’t afford to NOT be in this space.
It’s now the proverbial TV on the dinner table with the news on from the 80’s. It’s just so much more than that though. It gets one million video views PER DAY. And it’s growing.
We can’t avoid this space in local news any longer. Here’s a snapshot of some of the networks on TikTok and their follower and likes numbers.
My nail tech knew more about the Gabby Petito story than I did, though half of what she knew was speculation or conspiracy theories. She was willing to engage in the news topic, which is what I saw as the win. How often can you talk to a 23-year-old about a local news story in depth?
There is a fun side of TikTok, which can build a brand or make it laughable. It’s a delicate line. News anchors doing silly dances or trending songs can seem a bit “unprofessional” to those either of a certain age or certain belief in journalism. News anchors or reporters showing their behind-the-scenes antics or how they get ready can be informative and entertaining. Actually, just reporting the news can get you into a space where a younger audience thrives, but you’ve gotta make it compelling to watch.
I once interviewed a candidate and asked, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”.
The answer? “I want to be TikTok famous.”
I dug further, “But by doing what? What is your skill, your ‘sell’, your technique, your appeal?”
“I don’t know. I just want to be famous You don’t really need a skill.”
I beg to differ. TikTok itself is a skill.
I spoke to Melissa Ratliff, Digital Content Manager at WWSB in Sarasota, Florida, and also a TikToker who is cashing in just using her knowledge of history. “I’m a huge nerd. The app mostly started as a funny lip-sync, dancing app but I’ve always LOVED storytelling and history and it was when one of my history videos went viral (sits at 2.4 million views) that I realized educational content was my niche. You have to find the thing that makes you unique and bank on that for success.”
You won’t find me on there doing silly dances as I have absolutely no coordination. I tried one for an hour that involved banging your fists together and revealing information and I just looked like I was swatting away bees. As someone who works from home right now, I rarely get dressed up, and TikTok is the party where EVERYONE is dressed up and looking their best. Thank God for filters and there are hundreds of them.
I am TRYING to get a presence on there if nothing else just to see what resonates and what doesn’t. What content lures me in and what makes me scroll.
If you are new to TikTok, there are “spaces” you’ll end up in by what you consume and whom you follow. For example, I love dogs – we all know this – so I follow a lot of dog accounts. I make a lot of dog videos. So, I am in “Dog TikTok”. In a random twist, as an 80’s/90’s Gangster rap music lover who thinks camping is staying at the Red Roof Inn, I have also somehow ended up in “Country TikTok”. I can only guess that’s because I’m in Nebraska and assumptions are made. There’s “Over 40 TikTok” so you don’t feel like a creeper in a kids’ world.
Even if you don’t know the platform, no matter who you are in the business of journalism, you know GOOD CONTENT. That’s the only starting point you need for any platform out there. Good Content is King. You just have to adapt to how the information is presented on screen.
Ratliff adds, “When you have a story that is garnering clickable content (true crime cases and other bizarre news) you can create content around those stories. Otherwise, the app is so personality-driven that it’s a great space to make people connect with your on-air talent.”
The Washington Post has a presence there, known as the “Washington Post Tik Tok Guy”. His name is Dave Jorgenson. Here’s an article about him and how he works from Mashable. Ratliff says Jorgenson has lead the way for news on the app.
“It’s a lot of reading the room and watching trends,” Ratliff says, “Obviously if you are covering something more serious the tone needs to match accordingly.”
There are people from all generations on the platform, from grandmas to kids. I asked Ratliff if she thinks having “older” people on TikTik was going to scare away the younger generation as Facebook did.
“Not at all. It’s one of the most open-minded and friendliest platforms on the internet. In fact, generations finally seem to be connecting more.”
You might be thinking at this point, “But there’s no money there”.
ANNOUNCER: “THERE IS MONEY THERE”
Ratliff has a creator account and raked in enough money to make a down payment on a car. There are also promotional opportunities within the platform, from big bucks to the price of a coffee a day.
But that $500 million dollar answer is for Part 3 of this series on “I get my news on TikTok.”
Coming up in Part 2, we’re going to talk to some journalism workers who are spending time on TikTok and strategizing how to mix it in the fold of day-to-day work.
If you have feedback, questions, or examples of how you are using TikTok for news, email me at Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or message me here on LinkedIn. If you want to offer up a TikTok that went viral you produced, send me your handle and I’ll get it in the mix. You can follow me on TikTok at @newsbosslady.