The outlook for media companies is grim these days. Layoffs abound. There are now chatbots that can approximate low-level aggregated news, lifestyle quizzes, or Saddam Hussein’s NFL predictions. And there’s the slow degradation of the only social media platform where journalists have sway.
Bad times can push anyone to desperate measures, so it’s no surprise many major outlets are embracing TikTok. The Washington Post was an early adopter of the platform and it’s worked out fairly well for them; the paper’s official account has some 1.5 million followers, or a little more than half the number of their actual subscribers last summer. Few others have been so successful, but that hasn’t kept outlets from trying: a running list maintained by media reporter Francesco Zaffarano, who writes the Mapping Journalism Substack, claims at least 753 outlets globally have officially logged on.
The mass media TIkTok adoption makes a certain amount of business sense; newspapers need readers and a sizable contingent of the reading population is on TikTok. But so far, their presence on the app is a gift to anyone who enjoys seeing institutions that traffic in expertise, authority, and very little humor surrender to the learning curve of a platform whose conventions and vernacular are almost exclusively dictated by teens. Here are some of the worst.
The New York Post
Gawker’s favorite newspaper should be excellent at TikTok. Their coverage is salacious, gossipy, and driven by scoops. They also have the best headline writers in the game, and should therefore excel at any image-heavy medium involving overlaid text. Unfortunately, for the gossip fiends and right-wing maniacs, they have traded Hunter Biden’s sensory deprivation tank for Ken Burns-style photo montages of famous people, obscured by long and pun-less text.
The Washington Post
On paper and by most metrics that their sales department cares about, The Washington Post has played the TikTok game right. They have a huge following and clearly understand some key rules for social media success — quantity and offloading the work to Gen Z social media staffers. The Post’s bio on the platform is “We are a newspaper.” which could be somewhat charming if the account bore any resemblance to one. Instead, the account amounts to an online improv troupe writing sketches with a loose relationship to the headlines.
The New Yorker
They should not subject their writers to this.
The Intercept also ranks among the better of the bad, as they clearly know this is not their strength and have made accordingly little effort. This was useful though:
The Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times staffers have made the wise call to rarely show face in video recaps of their own reporting, offshoring the effort instead to a purple sock puppet.
The Times itself may not have a stronghold on the TikTok market yet, having just launched last week, but one of their most popular offshoots has a middling presence. Food videos are nice to look at, and you can tell they’re having fun with the audios.
The Financial Times
The Financial Times has not made a TikTok account, save for their live events page. The result is something like short-form CSPAN for people who can actually buy stuff they see in “How to Spend It.” This bitchy engineer has more charm than all of the Washington Post’s sketches combined, and I’m choosing to read some passive aggression in how they cropped Elon Musk’s face for this interview.
Interview clips and pictures of guys. Promising combo!
This is exactly how I picture they talk.
Clearly no relation, but I have questions.
Wall Street Journal Opinion
In what is perhaps the only wise editorial decision this section has ever made, the columnists have elected not to post any TikToks on their verified page. A perfect marriage of form and function.