Open Now
Open Now
Watch now

TikTok and the 'New News'

A quarter of Generation Z gets most of their news from TikTok, and 40% of them use TikTok and Instagram instead of Google to find information about their local area.

Think for a moment about how you heard about the recent train accident in Ohio that caused a huge cloud of dangerous chemicals and forced a large number of people to leave their homes. It's the storyline from White Noise brought to life.

If you are reading this, you probably found out about the crash online first. But if you're one of the few people who still read local newspapers and watch local TV for news, you've probably seen stories that mostly just repeat what the government has said.

"If you are in this red zone on the map and refuse to leave, you risk dying," said Governor Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania. Mike Dewine, the governor of Ohio, says, "We had to weigh different risks with no great options."

If you're lucky, you might also get an interview from a local person in the "man on the street" style. Most local news stories are about official statements and how people in the area feel about them.

TikTok-U.S. deal faces delays amid security concerns, report says

Now compare that to how I and more than a million other people have learned about the train accident so far: through a TikTok video made by a business owner and industrial designer from nearby Pittsburgh. In less than three minutes, I learned that the release of vinyl chloride and polyvinyl chloride are very different, that the crash released a million pounds of a substance whose safe exposure limit is less than one part per million, and that burning it makes clouds of hydrochloric acid.

As a piece of news reporting, that TikTok video had information that was a few orders of magnitude better than anything you could read or hear at the time. In fact, the person who made the show said that local news just repeated whatever the company or government line was.

I'm reminded of how, when we talk about the decline of local news, it's natural to talk about finding enough alternatives to fill the role that local newspapers and TV/radio stations used to play in the community. But maybe we shouldn't be so focused on substitution, which implies a one-to-one comparison, when so much of what's filling that void is better than traditional local news in many ways.

Government raises concerns over TikTok being used as news source by young  people - Manchester Evening News

Think about what the point of local news was, since it wasn't just to sell ads. The goal was to quickly find out what people in the area thought about what was going on and what the government knew. But in the age of social media, with platforms like TikTok and Substack that make it easy to find new things, we no longer need professionals to do the work of gathering information for us. (Though I think professional journalists still have an important role to play as editors of the news that naturally comes up on these platforms.) A quarter of Generation Z gets most of their news from TikTok, and 40% of them use TikTok and Instagram instead of Google to find information about their local area.

It's a paradigm shift that affects different generations in different ways, but it will change how people find out about everything, from sports to culture to news.

Follow us on Google News

Filed under