February 10, 2021

Confession time: I am 24 years old, social media is a big part of my job, and yet TikTok makes me feel very old and uncool. I don’t post videos on the app, but I watch them. My curated feed is full of golden retrievers, cake decorators and many, many dance videos set to “Rasputin” by Boney M.

News organizations around the world have experimented with using the app to grow their audiences, perhaps none more successfully than The Washington Post, but these efforts can sometimes feel forced and out of touch. TikTok has a specific style and brand of humor and requires a distinct strategy; you can’t just repurpose other social media content.

Student journalists fall directly in the app’s most engaged user base, so it’s no surprise they’re harnessing humor and memes to engage their audiences on the hugely popular platform. This week and next, students will share how their newsrooms use the platform and what they’ve learned. Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Campus, Southern Methodist University

Emily Cook, engagement team

How did your publication decide to start a TikTok account? 

One of our editors worked on a project during class that researched how news and media publications were using TikTok to reach new audiences. They thought it could be a fun way to grow The Daily Campus and play with how we present ourselves and campus news. I took over the account last fall when it was brand new and grew it from about 500 total views to over 54,000 views today.

What do you see as the goal of your presence on TikTok? 

The main goal of our TikTok is to have a space that is more casual and fun for students to interact with The Daily Campus. We want to build our presence among the student body as well as build engagement and readership campuswide. One of the best ways to do this is by sharing content that is both informative and relatable to students. If they think we are funny, they just might follow us!

What does the workflow look like for conceptualizing and creating a video?  

Usually when conceptualizing a new video for the account, I try to gather a sense of what has been buzzworthy on campus that week. For example, when news broke that our spring break was canceled, I looked for popular audios trending that week and translated the information into the meme-like format. A lot of it is just reframing news into popular trends and jokes to get the point across in a relatable way. Once I have the right audio and format, the video creation happens relatively fast.

What’s your favorite video from your publication’s account? 

Funnily enough, my favorite video on the Daily Campus account is actually one of our least popular. I took it during SMU’s annual Celebration of Lights, a holiday festival marking the lighting of the Christmas Tree and Dallas Hall. The video was truly magical with snow falling and people singing and sparkling Christmas lights. I felt like it really showcased the beauty of the SMU community and our traditions.

What advice do you have for student publications that might be considering launching a TikTok? 

Be relatable and true to your publication’s community. Ask yourself, what would I as a student want to see? Typically, funny and more daring videos (aka the ones that are critical of the university) get more views, so if you are looking to grow your account fast, keep that in mind. The TikTok algorithm is a strange beast, so try not to get discouraged if a video you worked hard on doesn’t do as well as you expected. Also, don’t forget to have fun! TikTok is a very wild platform so don’t be afraid to get creative and push some boundaries!

The Villanovan, Villanova University

Emily Cox, former editor-in-chief

How did your publication decide to start a TikTok account?

In all honesty, we decided to start our TikTok account solely to respond to a TikTok made by The Hoya, Georgetown University’s student newspaper. Georgetown and Villanova have a longstanding rivalry when it comes to Big East basketball, and the first video I posted on TikTok for The Villanovan played into this rivalry. I didn’t think our TikTok account would really grow, but after seeing the interaction we initially had with our first video, I decided, along with our digital editor, that continuing to post TikToks from time to time would be a great way to grow our audience.

What do you see as the goal of your presence on TikTok?

Throughout 2020, we made an effort to rebrand our publication across all social media platforms and in the content we were covering for our community. TikTok seemed like the next practical step for us in becoming a more digital publication.

What does the workflow look like for conceptualizing and creating a video? 

The Villanovan is still rather new to the platform and has not yet grown its social team to the point where we can really strategize our TikTok posts and content. Although I did not have a set workflow or process for video conceptualization and creation, my videos were always the result of my knowledge about current topics on campus and current trends on TikTok. As editor-in-chief, I was always very up to date on timely conversations among students or the administration, and often created videos with popular TikTok audios or trends that I knew might resonate with our growing audience.

What’s your favorite video from your publication’s account?

My favorite video has to be our most viral video: one that highlighted the time Bruce Springsteen performed at Villanova in 1973, but because of a strike at The Villanovan, only 25 people came to watch him. Paired with the “Bestie Vibes Only” trending audio, I simply showed off a tweet about this January night in the ‘70s. Because I wanted to know more of the story of why The Villanovan’s staff was on strike, I ended up diving into our archives, and I discovered that the so-mentioned strike was actually the result of the newspaper being suspended by Villanova’s administration. The suspension caught local and national attention nearly 50 years ago.

What advice do you have for student publications that might be considering launching a TikTok?

Have fun with it! TikTok in itself has so much room to be used as a creative outlet, and I have found that humorous content resonates well with students on our campus and beyond. Also, the student publication circle is a small one on TikTok, so definitely make an effort to interact with other schools and create friendships through the app.

More on TikTok

How The Washington Post’s TikTok guy Dave Jorgenson gets millions of views by being uncool (Poynter)

Here’s a running list of publishers and journalists on TikTok (Nieman Lab)

As TikTok grapples with weightier topics, journalists are tuning in to deliver the news (Poynter)

One story worth reading

The A&T Register at North Carolina A&T State University — the largest historically Black university in the nation — took a deep dive into local media coverage and found racist trends connecting crime stories to the university.

“Media outlets were using the university as a locator for crime in East Greensboro even though those crimes rarely — if ever — had anything to do with the campus, students, or faculty,” Alexis Wray writes for Scalawag Magazine. “This biased coverage from local media outlets was a threat to the success of Black students in higher learning institutions and the Black communities who support them.”

Wray and other editors discussed their findings with local outlets and suggested new ways they could use locators for crime stories. It worked, but Wray hopes more changes in coverage are still to come.

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Taylor Blatchford is a journalist at The Seattle Times who independently writes The Lead, a newsletter for student journalists. She can be reached at blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com…
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