The Washington Post’s Dave Jorgenson, who founded The Post’s popular TikTok account in 2019, spoke to Vanity Fair about the importance of legacy media organizations creating connections on popular social platforms to help build brand trust and combat rampant disinformation.
“At the time of writing, the Times was closing in on 4,000 TikTok followers. They’ve got a long ways to go before catching up with the more than 1.5 million who follow the Post, which adheres to a more classically TikTok-ian adaptation of the day’s news, with highly produced spoofs on, say, George Santos, or President Biden ending the COVID-19 emergency—as well as more somber but still creative posts when warranted, like this recent video about the back-to-back mass shootings in California.
High-profile politicians including Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke have starred in the Post’s TikToks (so has legendary executive editor Marty Baron, before he stepped down in 2021). Blue-chip advertisers like Marriott Bonvoy and United Airlines have taken over the feed on Sundays, when the Post doesn’t produce its own TikTok content. The most-viewed post to date, with more than 7 million views, was a 21-second video from February 2022, jumping off the Department of Agriculture’s reimplementation of nutritional school-lunch standards that the Trump administration wanted nothing to do with. In the video, Jorgenson, now 32, plays the friendly lunch lady (or lunch man, as it were); his younger TikTok colleagues, Carmella Boykin and Chris Vazquez, play the angsty teens. (“This suuucks.”) A good TikTok, in Jorgenson’s words, “should look effortless, but in reality take a lot of effort.” (Four hours per video on average in the case of Jorgenson’s team, which often cranks out three videos a day.)
Early on, when Jorgenson first got the keys to the Post’s shiny new TikTok account, the main value was brand recognition. More and more, Jorgenson sees the Post’s TikTok as a counterweight to misinformation that can easily spread on the platform. He also senses that TikTok is bringing new customers to the Post, which has struggled with subscriber growth in the post-Trump news cycle. “What I know for sure,” he told me, “and I’ve seen in the comments all the time, and in surveys, is a very common sentiment that people subscribed to the Post because of our TikTok account.” I asked Jorgenson where he thinks news organizations should rank TikTok in the current platform hierarchy. “I’m extremely biased here, but in my mind it should be at the top,” he said. “Just in terms of like, ‘meet people where they are,’ if we’re trying to do that, TikTok is the place.’”