How Openly is disrupting LGBTQ+ news on TikTok
Plus: social media jobs for journalists and updates on the list of TikTok accounts
Hello! I'm Francesco Zaffarano, and this is Mapping Journalism on Social Platform, a biweekly newsletter featuring chats with people pushing journalism's boundaries on social media.
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In other news, I updated the list of journalism accounts on TikTok and Telegram, which now have more than 780 and 120 titles, respectively. I also updated the form to submit new accounts (find it here), allowing people to flag projects on other social platforms. I want to open the directory to more emerging platforms, so watch this space for updates soon.
And now, let’s dive into this week’s Q&A.
Q&A: How Openly is building a global audience with impartial LGBTQ+ news on TikTok
For this issue, I spoke with Enrique Anarte, who leads the TikTok team of Openly – the Thomson Reuters Foundation* LGBTQ+ news brand and the world’s first impartial queer news outlet on the platform. Enrique worked for several years as a multimedia journalist for Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster. He helped develop several social formats for the Latin American service and co-led DW’s first award-winning TikTok channel – DW Berlin Fresh.
FZ: What is Openly’s goal on TikTok?
EA: Providing people, especially younger generations, with impartial and trustworthy information about LGBTQ+ issues globally.
FZ: What makes Openly different from other accounts covering LGBTQ+ stories?
EA: I think what makes Openly unique is that we produce impartial, trustworthy journalism about LGBTQ+ issues for a TikTok audience. Let me break down these three main points.
1. Unlike other queer news outlets on TikTok or outside the platform, we’re impartial, just like any other journalism produced by Thomson Reuters. That doesn’t mean we cannot – and that’s the biggest challenge – play with the platform's language, but impartiality is part of our essence, and we don’t want to be anything else.
2. I put a strong focus on trust because our content is subject to the same fact-checking process as any other journalistic format produced at the Thomson Reuters Foundation. We might speak a different language, but we’re as accurate and trustworthy as our colleagues are. And I think that’s very important in the age of widespread misinformation we live in, particularly, but not only, on social media.
3. The third element I’d like to stress is that we produce journalism for this platform. We don’t just cut traditional social videos we would have made for Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram in a vertical format and post them on TikTok. Yes, these videos perform very well because there is a huge user engagement now on TikTok. But I believe there is something unique to TikTok, a different language and the possibility to break with traditional schemes, to take things to a new level - more tangible, more user-friendly, more personal in the sense that we stop talking down to our audience and start a conversation with them. That’s what we do on Openly and an element that I’m very proud of, especially because I think it reinforces the element of trustworthiness that I mentioned before by creating a more personal relationship with the audience.
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FZ: How does your TikTok presence fit into your wider company strategy?
The Thomson Reuters Foundation launched Openly to provide impartial LGBTQ+ journalism to global audiences. Our TikTok channel targets audiences who may not frequently use traditional websites or more mature social platforms but are interested in watching and engaging with queer stories worldwide. We aim to stay true to our brand and build brand awareness and trust among younger audiences who may not be familiar with us.
This aligns with the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s broader goal of building global awareness of some of humanity's most critical issues, inspiring collective leadership, and helping to shape a prosperous world where no one is left behind. TRF focuses on fostering more inclusive economies, advancing media freedom, and promoting human rights.
FZ: How many people work on your TikTok account?
EA: I was part of the team that launched the account in July 2021 with my co-host Shivani Dave and under the supervision of our managers at the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Until recently, the team consisted of Shivani and me working part-time and taking care of writing, producing, and managing the account. However, we fully plugged into the wider Openly news team and leveraged knowledge, insight, and expertise across the Foundation.
Starting this month, I’ve just started working full-time on the account. One of our goals will be to set up a worldwide network of freelance reporters that allows us to become a truly global LGBTQ+ news brand on the platform and reach new audiences beyond Europe and the US, with Africa and Asia being key areas for audience development.
FZ: Do you have recurrent formats/shows?
EA: We have vox pops in the streets of cities like London, Berlin, and San Francisco; the latest viral trends with an informational/educational twist; at-home explainers about all sorts of current topics, from the last Italian election to using non-binary language in Bulgarian; presenter-led travel videos with queer tips for those visiting Warsaw, Milan or Manchester; short interviews where we feature voices that matter to the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, from a gay Belarusian refugee in Germany to a trans activist fighting against forced sterilization in Prague; comedy and fun content, from gay astrology to who’d be the education and defense ministers in an LGBTQ-only country; and outdoor explainers in which we present current topics and issues from the cities we’re based in.
FZ: What is the TikTok-specific project you are most proud of?
EA: Our ongoing series on non-binary pronouns/language in different languages, which no other media account or individual creator (that I’m aware of!) had done before us. This series helped us reach young audiences beyond the English-speaking world. And I think it stands for what we, Openly, are as a news brand.
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FZ: What project or experiment would you love to do on TikTok?
EA: I would love to develop an impartial, journalistic project tackling misinformation about trans issues (in the line of @transathletica.series) at an international level that doesn’t stick to traditional news formats.
FZ: What metrics do you use to analyze your content performance and why?
EA: The first thing to consider is who’s our target audience. In our case - to keep it simple - it’s young LGBTQ+ people and allies worldwide, not only in the US and the UK. Therefore, even if a video might hit 1 million views or generates tons of engagement, is it reaching those people Openly TikTok was born for?
Therefore, we look at the views and the engagement but also at the qualitative dimensions of the engagement. Was it mostly positive? Did the video inspire/educate people? Or did most of them use the comment section to attack sexual minorities or any other group? Was there a respectful debate, which is vital for an *impartial* outlet covering LGBTQ+ news?
We use the more “mainstream” metrics (views, comments, shares, watch time, favorites, etc.). Still, we also pay attention to the quality of the engagement, the variety of the content, the value of the information as public service journalism, etc. I will say that, in terms of quantitative metrics and as a TikTok user, I’m a big fan of shares and favorites.
FZ: Do you interact with your audience on TikTok? How?
EA: All the time! We do intensive community management – listening and responding appropriately to their feedback and concerns –provide additional information on the topic based on our users’ questions, and even produce new videos based on their feedback and questions.
FZ: What is one thing you have learned while working on TikTok?
EA: Social media hasn’t made journalism worse, as many claims: it made us more humble and accountable and shown us that for decades we’ve been living in a castle in the skies where we unilaterally decided what mattered to people and how much.
FZ: One thing you would like to change on TikTok?
EA: Please remove the Friends page and bring the Discover page back - this isn’t Facebook! And bring back pinned comments: they’re a great way to complement or clarify the information you’ve given in the video - otherwise, it gets lost among the users' comments.
FZ: What would you do differently if you started your account today?
EA: I would dedicate less time to doing what works for other accounts - with other brands, more resources, or just different goals - and focus on what makes Openly unique, what people love about us.
FZ: Which three accounts should I check out on TikTok?
@ineshernand is doing a great job educating and informing people in Spain in a fun and entertaining way.
I learn so much from German historian and journalist @heeyleonie.
And Madrid’s Prado museum @museodelprado is the BEST museum account on the platform.
*Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of multinational media conglomerate Thomson Reuters.
Daniel Levitt kindly put together this list of social-media-related jobs. To see hundreds more listings subscribe to his newsletter:.
BET Networks, Senior Director, Social Media in NYC or LA
Court TV, Social Media Coordinator in Atlanta
Hearst, Temp. Social Media Coordinator in NYC
VICE, Analyst, Audience Insights (remote)
Reach, Registered Audience Editor (remote)
Sky, Social Media Specialist in Milan
Der Spiegel, Social media editor in Hamburg
Die Zeit, Junior Social Media Manager in Hamburg
Vogue, Trainee Social Media in Munich
VICE, Senior Analyst, Audience Insights in London or Amsterdam
Marie Curie, Social Media Manager (remote)
Sky, Social Media Producer in Osterley
One question for you
Things to read
📌 How TikTok became a haven for queer and questioning kids [Vox]
📌 TikTok Helps Queer Nigerians Find Community [TeenVogue]
📌 For Balkan LGBT Community, TikTok is Mixed Blessing [BalkanInsight]
📌 How Libs of TikTok Became an Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate Machine [Them]
That’s all for this issue. If you liked it, please share it on social or forward it to your colleagues and friends.
Hi Gabriele, first of all thank you for reading mu newsletter, I am glad you are finding it interesting. As for your question, I don’t have a straight answer for you. I think TikTok, as many other platforms, can be used to shape a different narrative around a given topic. If that’s for the good or not, it really depends on the people who are using the platform.
This one, for example, is a positive example: https://amp.observers.france24.com/en/africa/20220217-meet-the-tiktoker-using-humour-to-break-down-stereotypes-of-africa
Regarding Chinese soft power in the continent, I think that’s more than a possibility. But I also think the real influence China is gaining on the continent comes from money spent in trade and investments for infrastructures, more than social media.
Thank you Francesco for your super interesting newsletter! I would like to ask you a question: do you think that tiktok has more positive or negative effects on Africa? Is it helping the continent’s narrative? Is it sensible to becoming a chinese soft power tool for gaining more influence in the continent?