By Kemiso Wessie
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released a report in 2016 that stated more than half of Internet users turned to social media news each week, with Facebook being the top social media news source. However, TikTok is increasing in importance as a new platform for news.
TikTok is a popular video sharing social media platform launched in 2016 by Chinese company ByteDance. The rapid growth of TikTok and its typically young, vocal audience has been noticed by traditional media. In realising the app’s potential, it has helped them reach wider audiences.
The question for journalism educators is how to adjust their teaching to include the new platform as a means of reporting.
Spanish communications scientists, María‐Cruz Negreira‐Rey, Jorge Vázquez‐Herrero and Xosé López‐García look into the presence of journalists on TikTok through the type of content and strategies used in adapting to TikTok in their article “Blurring Boundaries Between Journalists and TikTokers: Journalistic Role Performance on TikTok” (2022). They note the app’s novelty: where other platforms show users content of the accounts they follow, TikTok’s algorithm selects material on the ‘For You Page’, in a continuous, never‐ending succession of videos (2022:148). The app’s algorithm makes it possible for any video to be viewed (and gain popularity) regardless of the amount of followers and other engagement, such as views, comments, shares and likes.
The African Journalism Educators’ Network (AJEN), a project of the Wits Centre for Journalism, conducted a brief survey of TikTok users, and many stated that the app was the first place they go for news because of the convenience and how sporadic the videos seem compared to actively looking for news. The majority of those surveyed opt for this passive form of news consumption and only go out of their way to research the topics that require additional information. “The videos are enough to inform you with just the important parts,” stated one 23 year old respondent.
TikTok’s growth and young audience, who are mainly Gen Z, have encouraged professionals and experts to create their own accounts. The platform’s unique language and logic require new strategies for gaining visibility and popularity (Negreira‐Rey et. al 2022).
Rather than simply sharing articles that encourage users to go to news websites, TikTok’s unique distribution model requires outlets to “adjust their reporting in accordance with the content style and functions.” Media companies and journalists must join the trends of new platforms of communication to adapt to new content consumption habits in order to ensure continuity and reach new audiences; a respondent told AJEN, reinforcing points made by Negreira‐Rey et. al (2022).
“The reach and discoverability on TikTok is unparalleled. For an article that is breaking news, if you are able to talk your audience through the article, share it on the TikTok platform in a creative, video‐centric, and personable way, it has the opportunity to reach millions of people within 24 hours. The sheer size of its reach is a social media manager and journalist’s dream,” states a US journalist interviewed for the study.
This creates the possibility for journalists to create and use their personal profiles to keep the conversation going, to simplify or explain in detail the topics they covered in written articles. In the medical field, many professionals have created content to better explain or even debunk questions and concerns related to their field, for example: surgeon Dr. Miami (@therealdrmiami) and dermatologist Dr. Shah (@dermdoctor). Others, such as stylists, fashion editors, financial advisors and real estate specialists, also use TikTok in this way.
TikTok’s modern language and casual nature means journalists and relevant talking heads do not have to be bound by style guides or tone specific to each publication. It is about making sure everyone can understand what is going on in the world.
Gen Z is concerned with being informed and not being intentionally ignorant members of society, “You have to know what’s going on. There’s no excuse for not knowing when there’s so many ways of learning,” says a 22 year old respondent.
However, what does or how would the wider use of TikTok in the newsroom look like in the African context, and more specifically, journalism schools? Do you have examples or thoughts? Please write to us at email@example.com