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Nov. 9, 2022, 1:05 p.m.
Audience & Social

“We actually go back to the beginning”: After launching in London, the TikTok-focused News Movement comes to the U.S.

“One of our first successful TikTok videos that surpassed over a million views is our explainer of where Ukraine is on a map.”

This piece was originally published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The News Movement is an English-language news outlet with a strong focus on social media. Founded by former executives from Dow Jones and the BBC, it employs 30 people based in London and New York, and has experienced fast growth across platforms since its launch at the beginning of 2021.

At the time of writing, it has 63,000 followers on TikTok, 19,000 subscribers on YouTube, 6,500 followers on Twitter and 5,100 on Instagram. Most of these people are very young: More than half of The News Movement’s TikTok views and half of its YouTube views come from people under 24. The company plans to use branded content, collaborations with companies to produce their social content, and digital tipping and micropayments as revenue streams.

In October, after a few months in beta mode, The News Movement officially launched in the United States. I spoke to The News Movement’s head of audience, Valentina Park, about what this launch means, what it’s like working on social media, and what makes The News Movement stand out.

Marina Adami: You recently launched The News Movement in the U.S. Why?

Valentina Park:It was a curtains-up moment on all of the work that we’ve been doing. We’ve been technically live in what we call beta for the last nine to 10 months, testing and learning what works. So this was a chance for us to show the world what we’ve been up to and bring attention to it. We did an advertising campaign in New York, and we did creator campaigns, where we had creators in the U.K. and in the U.S. speak to The News Movement.

We redesigned the site, we put out new creative assets. We also announced a partnership with [music company] UnitedMasters: when you think about audio and visual, they always tend to go hand in hand, so we’re trying to bring that back with that partnership so that we can put a soundtrack to the news. And then we had an event in New York, where our journalists and our editor-in-chief got to tell the group about how The News Movement builds stories and what kind of stories we cover.

Adami: What makes you stand out from the mainstream news media?

Park: I don’t think it’s old media versus new media. I think the things that make us different are the way in which we focus our attention on trying to understand how people are consuming information today, where they’re doing it, and what that means. And that means that we’re on social platforms, which is why we’re social-first, and we try to take a look at the behaviors and the habits, and at the way in which things are consumed. That’s what really sets us apart.

In terms of what we cover, we make sure that listening is first and foremost. So, rather than saying “Here’s a news agenda that we’re going to share with you,” it’s thinking, what do these audiences actually care about? What do they want to be? What are they already actively talking about? What do we know that they will be interested in engaging with? So inviting them in.

Adami: What role has your audience played in your growth so far?

Park: One of our core principles is to have the audience as the foundation on which everything is built. So when we think about a story and how that comes to life, we first keep in mind respecting where we are from a platform perspective and also listening to the audience.

So in the beginning, we tried a bunch of things to see what kinds of stories were resonating and what format was resonating and tried to drill down from there. A format that has become a pretty big staple for us is our explainers — providing context to things that are happening around the world that, especially, these younger audiences care about. They have an inherent curiosity about the world around them.

Our editor-in-chief Kamal Ahmed [former editorial director of the BBC] often says, “News often starts at season six, episode four.” So that’s not our starting point. We actually go back to the beginning and try to provide context as to how we got there, and why we are where we are. One of our first successful TikTok videos that surpassed over a million views is our explainer of where Ukraine is on a map. This was right as the conflict started to bubble up. And in the news, all you heard was, “Russia and Ukraine, Russia is trying to invade Ukraine.” But then we thought, “Do people understand why is that happening?” So we went back to this. And if you look at Ukraine and Russia on a map, that geography is actually really important as context as to why that conflict even exists.

Adami: You talk a lot about having a conversation with your audience. What do you mean by that and how do you do it?

Park: If you think about the nature of social media, where news has been traditionally outward and has gone in one direction, either somebody’s behind a desk talking at you through a screen or through written copy. There isn’t too much opportunity [for an exchange].

The conversation is happening on social platforms. So when you make social platforms the primary place for your news and the primary touch point for your content, it’s really important to listen to what the audiences are talking about and care about and it’s really important to look through the comments actively, having our journalists do so through their own accounts, as well as through our what we call the masthead account.

We try to speak to people and respond within the comment section. And then we also try to create stories off of that. So we did a piece around disabilities and Wireless Festival in the U.K. and how it wasn’t set up in a way to really support disabled people. And we did that by handing over the mic to the people whose story it was, rather than us telling that story for them. And then as we got a ton of engagement around it, we noticed that people really wanted follow-up information: has anything changed? People were sharing their own personal experiences at festivals. So we continued the story by doing a duet with our own content to give that update, saying “We’ve continued to reach out to Wireless Festival but we haven’t actually heard back” and making sure that audiences weren’t left hanging.

The other way that we [have a conversation with our audience] is through Lives. When the Queen passed away, we did a TikTok Live: Our journalists went out onto the streets and started talking to people. As people were tuning in, we responded. People were asking questions about what it was like and they were also paying their respects through the Live.

Adami: The News Movement covers a wide range of different kinds of topics: some breaking news like the Queen’s death or the war in Ukraine, but also social issues and even some fun facts. What’s the idea behind the range of topics? How are they chosen?

Park: It’s a combination of things. We definitely do a kind of on-the-day, what’s trending, what people are talking about. We provide that context: here’s what’s happening, who, what, when, where and why. In addition, we have some editorial pillars that we tend to stay within. We make sure we cover issues we know this younger generation really cares about. That includes things like climate change, bettering the planet, social justice issues, and inequity.

One of the core topic areas that we cover fairly regularly is female athletes. So, showing the types of things that female athletes are going through, their experiences and also celebrating their wins. The [UEFA] Women’s Euro was also something that we actively followed.

Adami: How does your daily process work?

Park: We have regionally-specific news meetings daily for London and New York and then we also have one daily meeting between those two teams. We produce all of our stories through a commissioning process, where we have an opportunity to cross-collaborate across newsrooms and across teams, including the audience and product team as well.

The reason we created this process is to make sure that we’re serving our audiences. So rather than having the audience team say, ‘We’re just going to give you insights,’ and then the newsroom going off and making those changes or carrying on, this process kind of breaks down those walls a little bit. It’s definitely more integrated. And as far as the process goes, it helps us understand why we’re doing this story. We can set goals around what we want this story to achieve. We can also make sure that we’re being nimble as the story evolves and set it up in a way so that we can actually track its performance, both on the individual story level, as well as holistically by publishing through a platform like Sprinklr, which we’ve recently brought on, and then also test for different formats. Sprinklr has all of the standard metrics that you expect to see in the native platforms such as follower breakdowns, post views and engagements for each platform. What we find most useful, though, are the custom formulas and visualizations that we can apply based on what we’re searching for. For example, I’m able to see when a TikTok video picks up traction and for how long, which is much harder to do via native analytics.

Adami: Is it risky for The News Movement to depend so much on social media platforms?

Park: It’s always a balance. To make sure that we’re keeping up with the trends, we’re constantly testing things. If a certain type of format doesn’t continue to work, then we need to shift within those platforms because the algorithms are changing on a regular basis. We think of our website as not necessarily the main destination. We think of it as an opportunity for our readers and audiences to learn more outside of the constraints of the social platforms, because there are guardrails around how a TikTok video will resonate, around how it’ll work on Instagram versus YouTube versus Twitter. The site offers that extra value point of, “I can experience this elsewhere and I really do want to dig in deeper, they pulled me in with that entry point and that content on social, how do I dig in and explore it in a different way.”

So we don’t think of our site as just a linear opportunity but as an opportunity for our audience to learn more, especially when they’re in discovery and learn mode. We don’t want the site to just be a regurgitation of what our stories are on social, we want it to be a value-add.

Adami: Are you concerned about not having a strong direct relationship with your audience, given that most of the interactions are not on your own site?

Park: I would argue that social is specifically designed to build direct and immediate relationships with our audiences. This is especially true with those who are already engaging with our content either by asking questions or by sharing their own thoughts. For The News Movement, regardless of the platform — social or our site — audience listening and engagement sit at the centre of our journalism because we think the news is a two-way relationship.

Marina Adami is a journalist at the Reuters Institute for Digital Journalism, where this piece originally ran.

POSTED     Nov. 9, 2022, 1:05 p.m.
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