By Jane Corscadden

27 May 2020 - 12:41

Man holding a mobile phone and smiling
'Don’t rely only on the sound of your own voice. On-screen graphics and text, as well as music, can help you explain concepts quickly and clearly.' ©

Seyi Ariyo used under licence and adapted from the original.

Student journalist Jane Corscadden tells us how she uses TikTok to tell a complicated story in a quick and simple way.

Why do you use TikTok for journalism?

Recently, a university friend said she wanted to use TikTok to explain Covid-19 in Northern Ireland. As the ‘designated journalists’ in our families, we're the first ones they contact whenever complicated news breaks. Her younger sister was struggling to understand what was going on. 

So, we made short videos explaining Covid-19 to a younger audience, with a group of journalism students from the University of Ulster. Using the hashtag #ulsterjournos, our videos have generated over 100 thousand views in less than a week.

Covid-19 has led to news fatigue – meaning the public are more interested in light relief, and they want their news to get to the point quickly and clearly. This makes TikTok the perfect platform for journalism right now.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is an app that allows users to create short 15-60 seconds long looping videos. Users who make videos can add special effects, backgrounds, and short snippets of popular songs or other videos.

The app is currently used by 800 million people worldwide every month, with more than one billion video views per day.

Statistics from February 2020 show that 41 per cent of TikTok users are between 16-24 years old, making it the perfect platform to reach younger audiences.

What content works on TikTok?

TikTok users favour creative, eye-catching videos. However, there is growing interest in educational and inspiring content too – especially during lockdown. This is good news for journalists.

With one billion videos viewed on TikTok every day, there is a battle to ensure users see your content, and enjoy it.

Most TikTok users view videos on the ‘For You’ page – the home page you see when you first open the app. Little is known about how to get videos onto that main page, but there are some things you can do to maximise your chances.

The ‘For You’ page is curated by an algorithm which recommends content based on users’ watch and like history. So, what you see is mostly up to you.

If a user watches videos about news stories of the day, for example, this could increase the chances of your video appearing on their home page. The more you watch and like videos, the more TikTok recommends similar content.

Using trending hashtags can help get more eyes on your videos and land them on the ‘For You’ page. Popular tags include #fyp and #foryoupage.

How can you become an expert TikTok journalist?

You have to strike a balance between gaining inspiration from others and creating something unique.

Watch a lot of TikTok content before you make your own. As you watch videos, decide how the thing you want to say could fit in with the existing content. Maybe there’s a viral song you could change the words to.

Maybe – following in the footsteps of Max Foster of CNN – you could act out song lyrics to funny captions, explaining aspects of a story or your job.

The best journalistic content teaches viewers something without them even realising it. Talk to TikTok users to find out what news they want, and how they want to get it. When creating your content, use simple language and a friendly tone – you don't want to come across as condescending. 

Don’t rely only on the sound of your own voice. On-screen graphics and text, as well as music, can help you explain concepts quickly and clearly.

Master all of the above, and you’ll find the art of TikTok journalism increases your knowledge of the topics you’re talking about and refines your practice. That's because you have to get to the core of a story – and its relevance to the public – quickly.

Which TikTokkers do you recommend?

The Washington Post might be the most popular news publication on TikTok, with 508k follows and 22 million likes, The Post uses the platform to publish relatable videos about life in a newsroom. Video producer, Dave Jorgenson, runs the page and has been posting humorous content to keep viewers entertained during lockdown.

The BBC Visual Journalist, Religion Reporter and TikTok whisperer Sophia Smith Galer uses the platform to create stories, teach languages, and tap into viral trends. Personally, she’s one of my favourite TikTok journalists.

Max Foster, the CNN International reporter mentioned in the previous section, is another iconic TikTokker. He’s gained a huge following by putting a positive spin on news during lockdown.

Emma Bentley for BBC News is a BBC Digital Camera Journalist. She documents the realities of her day job by mixing educational videos with funny clips.

Follow @janeinator on Twitter.

Jane Corscadden took part in Future News Worldwide in 2019. The Next Future News Worldwide summit will be in 2021, and there will be a Facebook Live event this July. We will update this page with more details soon. 

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