The Washington Post, a 143-year-old newspaper, just reached 1 million followers on TikTok

Thanks in no small part to the seemingly limitless creativity of video producer, editor and writer Dave Jorgenson – or, “Washington Post TikTok Guy,” as he calls himself on Twitter – the stronghold of American journalism who published the Pentagon Papers and overthrew the Nixon administration has spent the past two years earning one of journalism’s most coveted awards: a much younger, more digital-savvy audience. Specifically, it is a demographic that is more comfortable spending time in hot social media app dominated by Gen Z celebrities like Addison Rae and the D’Amelio sisters, and less with something as old-school as a newspaper.

Unlikely, at least from an outsider’s perspective, The Post is enjoying considerable success. on TikTok at present. The newspaper’s TikTok channel just hit 1 million subscribers, and management is happy enough with the results so far to devote even more resources to the effort. Among the plans are a few new hires for the TikTok team, including an associate producer as well as a community editor. Partly to give the Washington Post’s TikTok Guy himself a little creative leeway and to take advantage of the fresh perspective and storytelling energy that new hires will bring.

Jorgenson shared a bit more about the game plan here during a phone conversation with me earlier in the week, while he was in the middle of – what else? – is preparing to publish a new TikTok. Which he did as soon as he hung up the phone.

This particular TikTok was about Delta Air Lines’ announcement that employees must now be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests as well as a monthly health insurance surcharge of $ 200. Jorgenson used one of his frequent editing tricks, spawning himself more than once in the TikTok, so he could appear to be talking to himself. In it, he claims to be a Delta PR executive dictating the memo that was posted on vaccine needs. A memo, by the way, that spoke of the Delta variant while assiduously avoiding any use of that word, for obvious reasons. The TikTok ends with Jorgensen, now identifying himself as the Delta variant itself, reading the Delta Air Lines PR statement.

Noticing the part on variant B.1.617.2, he exclaims: “Say my name, cowards.”

“The first TikTok we did – I would actually say the first at least 20, 30 if not 100 TikToks, was more like, hey we’re on the app. We’re your goofy uncle trying to be mindful of himself and we’re cool and all that stuff, “Jorgenson told me.” And it worked then. Now we still have this younger audience, but we also have millennials in their twenties. Even Gen X’s. and the baby boomers. My mom is on TikTok all the time. It helps, so we can kind of age some of the content and be a lot more current-oriented.

“So what is working now from what I can tell – especially the last one, I would say, really throughout 2021 – is news content that’s more based on sketches, where it’s kind of. sketch. It seems to do better, on average. These 30 second sketches, where I basically talk to myself and edit them to make it look different.

There is one particular question about all of this that Jorgenson has been asked too often to be able to count. The interesting thing about it, though, is that it’s a line of inquiry – why does the newspaper care about TikTok at all? – it actually reveals more about the person asking for it. What is that really implies that if the newspaper somehow doesn’t convert that TikTok audience into, say, paying a subscription to the website or the newspaper itself, then isn’t it all a waste? of time?

Micah Gelman, the Post’s editorial video director, attempted to address this issue in a statement about TikTok’s growth.

“When we launched our TikTok channel two years ago, we saw an opportunity to deliver the news in a unique way and reach new audiences,” said Gelman. “Since then, TikTok has proven to be one of our fastest growing platforms.

“These new roles will add to the success we’ve enjoyed, helping us to continue to grow, innovate and continue to connect with more people who may not regularly consume traditional information. “

Right now, Jorgenson’s normal pace is to produce ten TikToks every week for the Post Channel. They cover everything from serious topics like climate change to the Delta TikTok mentioned above where he sees an opportunity for a moment or an interaction based on a sketch.

Jorgenson says the intention is to be able to ramp up TikTok’s production a bit more with new hires, so the newspaper can go from two a day to maybe three or four, or even more. “And they can also focus on different things. This associate producer can have his own style, which will be complementary to mine.

Note that the growth of the Post’s audience on TikTok also follows the explosive growth of the application itself. With TikTok now consistently leading the monthly charts for which apps are downloaded the most, even surpassing mainstays like Facebook. According to recent data from the Sensor Tower app analytics platform, TikTok was again the most downloaded app in July.

That is, the post seems to be ramping up here at the perfect time. More importantly, however, is that this newspaper effort manages to resemble less the typical MO you see in journalism and more like the inventive operational style of newspaper owner Amazon President Jeff Bezos. It’s a philosophy that calls for investing and trying a lot of different things, even things that look weird and don’t necessarily seem adjacent to the main mission. No one knows what the future holds, let alone the journalists in this incredible shrinking profession, so why not? Experience. To fail. And experiment a little more.

“Anytime (the ROI issue) comes around me it’s just, like, hey – you keep focusing on creating great content,” Jorgenson told me. “It’s clear that what you’re doing is working, and that’s what I’m told. This is basically where it is.

“I’ll say, though, if you go to the comments section – like, for the record, you’ll see people really like The Washington Post’s TikTok, and they’ll say things every now and then like, that’s where I’m getting my news. And I’m trying to comment like, well make sure you go to our website too! But, I mean you can see where it works.

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