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Photography by Emma Valencia

TikTok: journalism’s saving grace?

Audio narration of TikTok: journalism’s saving grace?

Traditional media is declining but a trendy new social media app could be the solution.

If you’ve been anywhere on the Internet, you’ve probably come across a 15-second video of a teenage boy seductively lip syncing to a Drake song. Or maybe a girl in a Harvard sweatshirt throwing it back to Usher’s I Don’t Mind. These once viral videos were made famous on TikTok, the popular social media app that’s taking the world by storm.

Once known as Musical.ly, an app dominated by lip syncing preteens, TikTok has become the top free app on the North American market. Surpassing Instagram and Twitter, it has an estimated 800 million users on the platform. While most assume the app is swarming with hormonal teenagers, TikTok has become popular with a rather peculiar demographic—journalists. 

From the National Post to blogTO, news media are dominating the ‘For You’ page. The number of likes their videos are accumulating seems to suggest that TikTok is quite possibly on its way to revitalizing traditional news media. Or at the very least, keeping journalism afloat. 

For Aileen Donnelly, the digital news editor at the National Post, introducing her colleagues to TikTok was a far cry from challenging because of how well other news media were doing on the app. 

Donnelly saw a real opportunity to expand the National Post’s readership by reintroducing the newspaper to a younger demographic. “There’s something about TikTok that’s very public,” she says. “It really has this access to a wide and young audience that is maybe not so familiar with the National Post.”

It’s this broad audience that made Dhanung Bulsara, the digital host of blogTO, realize the app was worth exploring. “If you don’t have a TikTok account, you’re kind of following behind,” he explains.

That’s why, for Bulsara, it’s a no-brainer that newspapers jumped onto the TikTok bandwagon. Donnelly, for example, cited Washington Post writer Dave Jorgenson, known for his satirical newsroom content, as an inspiration. 

Jorgenson and his Washington Post team use viral trends on the app to give younger audiences a behind-the-scenes glance into daily operations of a newspaper, whether that be exploring what it’s like to pitch a story idea to a boardroom of editors or the pressure of meeting tight deadlines. 

Right now there’s no way to track whether TikTok is driving younger readers to blogTO or the National Post. Bulsara’s not entirely convinced that this social media app can revive the paper industry. But he does think that TikTok might save the digital side. And, while the 15-second videos may not be raking in new subscribers, they are telling the younger generation, “Hey, don’t forget we exist,” Donnelly says. 

This story was originally published in the print version of Emerge magazine.