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It’s been almost four years since I posted my first video on TikTok, back when I was a video journalist at BBC’s New Broadcasting House. In the time since, the presence of news media on TikTok has grown significantly, marking a significant shift in digital audiences’ interactions with news content. However, a recent study challenges this assumption.

Researchers Nick Hagar from the New York Times and Nicholas Diakopoulos of Northwestern University recently released a study in New Media and Society examining how news content is promoted and shared on TikTok’s For You Page. As of late 2022, the Reuters Institute of Journalism found that around half (49 percent) of the world’s top news publishers were active on TikTok, with even more joining since then.

To gauge the frequency with which these publishers’ content was being recommended to users, Hagar and Diakopoulos had to devise a methodology, considering that TikTok doesn’t provide direct API access. They initiated a process to extract recommended accounts from TikTok, starting with accounts from The Washington Post, NBC News, National Public Radio, and PBS News. The subsequent list included recommended news-producing accounts, limited to news publishers, professional journalists, or news aggregators/commentators. They then deployed 60 bots, each with varying levels of interest in news, to determine whether to watch or skip videos based on their alignment with that day’s New York Times headlines. Out of the 6,568 videos presented to the bots, only six met the authors’ criteria for news content.

Notably, the study doesn’t provide reassuring insights for news providers, but it doesn’t come as a surprise to experienced news creators on the app. The selection of prominent news accounts as the starting point contrasts with the fact that users are more inclined to follow individual creators than mainstream news accounts. The Reuters Institute of Journalism has consistently reported that audiences across platforms prefer the content of ‘personalities’ over traditional news accounts. Even on TikTok, this trend is evident. Furthermore, the study found that mainstream news media accounts were rarely recommended, partly due to the initial selection process, which favored engaging news accounts at the app’s onset.

“Traditional media is trying to apply the same success metrics they always have,” stated V Spehar, who creates news-related content as @Underthedesknews. “However, new media operates differently, especially on TikTok, where peer learning, niche content, and personality-driven news communication hold more significance.”

TikTok emerged as a news source in defiance of traditional media, offering viewers the perception that creators are independent, reliable, and not part of the establishment, despite sourcing most of their stories directly from legacy media. The resistance among journalists to engage with TikTok has led to a division on the platform, where users may encounter either mainstream news media accounts or unaffiliated news creators. The rare few who straddle both worlds serve to bridge the gap, offering original content while having a background in traditional journalism.

Notably, other studies and polls indicate a growing trend of audiences turning to TikTok for news consumption. The platform’s algorithms now play a vital role, shaping the type of content that gains traction and visibility. Consequently, news providers must adapt to this evolving landscape, understanding that content that resonates and engages will take precedence on these platforms, irrespective of its source.


You wrote a book! Now make a viral TikTok about it.

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Sophia Smith Galer

Sophia Smith Galer is a journalist, author and content creator with more than 140 million TikTok views. She specialises in the intersections between tech, gender, and health and has a British Journalism Award for her work innovating journalism on TikTok. In 2022 British Vogue named her as one of the top 25 most influential women in the UK.


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