David Jorgenson, better known as “the Washington Post TikTok guy,” now has a total of one million followers and 44 million likes. The 143-year-old newspaper joined TikTok in 2019, aiming to combine important news and comedy in short video clips for the broad audience of this social media platform. In a conversation with the Brandeis Journalism Department and members of the community, Jorgenson talked about his video-creating process and experience in this novel form of journalism.
When asked about the goals of the Washington Post TikTok account, Jorgenson said that the short videos were intended to “pique the interest” of viewers. While the 15-second clips are typically not enough to understand a complete news story, the pop culture references and comedic elements draw the viewer in and possibly persuade them to read the full article in the Washington Post. Jorgenson comments on how the looping feature of the app allows his audience to simply be entertained in their first viewing, and to then absorb the information in the following viewing.
When deciding on a TikTok idea Jorgenson thinks about the most important stories of the day. He usually has some long-term projects “sitting on the back burner,” but he begins writing and shooting daily news videos at the beginning of the day. Most of the actual information is “verbatim from the article” and Jorgenson often reshoots certain lines to create the most accurate and interesting videos that he can. The TikToks then undergo levels of editing and approval before they are posted on the app. Sometimes he adds additional information in the comments of his TikToks or links to the articles in his bio.
When asked about how he stays updated with the constantly changing TikTok trends, Jorgenson joked that it was simply “because we’re so cool!” Jorgenson scrolls through the app for only about 15 to 20 minutes a day, specifically looking for popular posts within the last few hours. He also says that he finds “funny sound bites that he can tell people will be using.” This strategy is particularly useful on TikTok where trending “sounds” allow for videos to be seen by more people. He tries to avoid getting stuck in specific areas of TikTok so he can appeal to different demographics. Jorgenson is looking to hire more people to his TikTok team at the Washington Post, including some specifically to identify current trends.
Jorgenson talked about a few possible reasons for his success as the Washington Post TikTok guy. First, he said that the account focused more on “engaging with the community,” rather than gaining followers in numbers. He posted consistent inside jokes and “easter eggs” which made his followers feel connected and engaged in the news. Second, he said that his team tried to evolve with TikTok. He noted that even since the start of the app a short while ago, it has undergone significant changes in its audience and the way people use it. He mentioned that it was important that, as creators, they “don’t get stuck in their ways.”
Another aspect of TikTok that Jorgenson uses to connect with his audience is by commenting on other videos. When he comments things like “where am I” on random posts it seems like it is purely for comedic purposes. However, he revealed that he is actually “very intentional” about commenting and uses this feature to interact with people. Still, he recommended having fun with it and “not taking yourself too seriously.”
Jorgenson’s advice for upcoming journalism graduates is to keep in mind that things are changing much faster than they did in the past. He recommends saying yes to as many opportunities as possible and also being a team player. Jorgenson believes that successful journalism is about “meeting people where they are” and adapting to suit today’s audience.