Startup builds social media news service for the likes generation

NEW YORK – With young people spending so much time on social media, it’s obvious that this is a good place to reach them with updates.

News movement operators base their business on this hunch. The company, which has been operating for more than a year, is hoping for success despite journalism being littered with years of unsuccessful attempts to get people in their 20s to become news consumers.

The News Movement, brainchild of former Dow Jones executives, employs a staff of reporters with an average age of 25 to create tailored news content for sites like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

“You really have to stay humble and open to different trends and ideas,” said Ramin Beheshti, president and founder of the organization with former Dow Jones CEO Will Lewis. “We’ve built a newsroom that reflects the audience we want to target.”

Among the newsrooms that the company produces TikTok videos for is The Associated Press. The AP has provided office space for the company and Lewis is vice chairman of the board.

Some of the content would startle a news traditionalist.

Realizing that his friends appreciated soothing videos, one employee created a midterm election “explainer” for Snapchat that used a video of a horse tending, baking pizza, and growing flowers, while an off-camera voiceover about politics discussed.

In “Get Ready with Me” two women prepare for work while discussing some things on the news.

There are more typical offers: videos of the earthquake in Turkey, for example, reports on President Biden’s proposals on abortion and social media. Explainer stories take a step back to tell people why something is new.

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Some stories are actually not news at all, but come from personal experience. A New York-based journalist, wondering why the police didn’t immediately jump onto the subway tracks to rescue someone who had fallen, looked inside and saw that they were working to stop trains.

Curious as to why stories of strange things being done by Florida residents are a regular part of the media coverage, a staffer shot a TikTok video showing it’s partly because the police are often there with photos and details about incidents released faster than other states.

There’s also relatable content that offers a type of service: asking young people on the street for excuses they used to break a date.

“News isn’t always what you think it is,” says Jessica Coen, the US editor-in-chief who has held executive positions at Mashable, Morning Brew and The Cut.

The news movement isn’t trying to be an aggregator and cover every headline, Coen said. “We try to cover topics where we can provide context and clarity,” she said.

Story formats differ based on placement. Most TikTok videos last around a minute, while a meaty YouTube article on women’s safety and London police’s response to assault lasted nearly 14 minutes.

According to a study by Oliver Wyman and the News Movement, around 60% of people in Generation Z, or young adults in their mid-20s, say they get news through social media. Other studies show that Gen Z people have lower opinions of traditional news outlets than their elders.

Given this, the news movement believes news organizations’ efforts to attract young people to their own websites or apps are hard to sell.

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“News shouldn’t feel like work,” Beheshti said. “It should be part of your daily consumption.”

One person who has sampled some of the news movement’s TikTok stories gave a mixed review, saying they often seemed to emphasize the flash over substance. You need to “read the room better,” said Gabriel Glynn-Habron, a 21-year-old college student from Asheville, NC who is studying journalism.

“I appreciate the effort,” he said. “It’s part of what the news media should be doing more — just show the effort.”

Those who try to reach out to young people are often unsuccessful because they really don’t understand who they’re trying to reach, says Linda Ellerbee, whose Nick News shows for the Nickelodeon network provided a template for success in the 1990s. It’s a mistake to think Gen Z is apathetic; The generation led the way in protesting George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, she said.

“Most attempts at breaking news to young people fail because they underestimate the intelligence of their audience,” Ellerbee said. “They talk down to them. They assume they’re stupid because they’re young.”

One point where Ellerbee and the news movement agree is how many people get frustrated with traditional news because they feel like they’re only getting part of a story, or that they’re diving into a movie somewhere in the middle. That speaks for more explainers.

The company’s research found that while young news consumers are more likely to fact-check information than older peers, they are also more prone to believing misinformation.

Because news as a business is shaky, the news movement has made diversification a part of its model from the start. It will partner with traditional news organizations and help them build social media teams.

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The News Movement advises brands on how to reach young consumers and has bought Recount, which creates video content about American politics for social media and continues to operate as a separate entity.

“We can’t have just one way to make money,” Beheshti said.