Credit: Screenshots via Openly TikTok

Openly is a social-first news publisher reporting on LGBTQ+ stories. While active on Instagram and Twitter, it is TikTok where it has amassed 120k followers since launching a year ago.

Openly is funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the independent charitable arm of Reuters. Its TikTok account is fronted by two part-time presenters Enrique Anarte and Shivani Dave.

Speaking on an episode of the podcast, Dave credits its early, rapid growth to a mixture of hard and soft video content. In November, Openly generated a record-high 19m views on the platform.

It is not all that surprising given that much of its content is now centred around the World Cup in Qatar, a country where it is illegal and unsafe to have same-sex relations.

Listen more: Reporting LGBTQ+ stories from Qatar, with sports journalist Michael McCann

A video with outspoken critic, and exiled gay Qatari doctor, Dr Nas Mohamed, counts for 2.7m views alone. But many stories around LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar have confirmed that audiences are beginning to expect hard news on the platform.


Dr. Nas Mohamed, a gay Qatari doctor who gained asylum in the US and is thought to be the only openly LGBTQ+ Qatari, is speaking out against FIFA and the 2022 World Cup’s host country’s over Qatar’s record on LGBTQ+ rights. Same-sex relations are illegal in the country, yet both the football governing body and the Qatari government have repeatedly said LGBTQ+ fans will be welcome. #worldcup202 #qatar2022

♬ original sound - Openly | LGBTQ+ news

TikTok has long been written off as unsuitable for serious journalism because of the memes and viral dance trends.

But Dave says sometimes that is the best way to tell a story. It can give dry news the creative spark audiences are crying out for.


Do you agree with the results of ILGA Europe’s latest ranking? #lgbtrights #rainbowfamily🏳️‍🌈

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It is important to have a mix, to break up the doomscrolling experience common on feeds like TikTok.

"As someone from the LGBTQ+ community, as well as my cohost [Enrique Anarte] we understand the importance of sometimes seeing positive news stories as well," they said.

TikTok has a feature called playlists which sit at the top of the profile to group together topics and themes - a bit like a website navbar. This has been instrumental in helping Openly keep an organised profile where audiences can dive into the subjects they care about.

"It's like a smorgasbord, you can see the mix and the mess," says Dave.

"One day we’re doing the Qatar World Cup, the next we're telling you which politicians in Brazil are LGBTQ+, the next day we're talking about pronouns, the next day we're talking about Pride."

Ripping up the rulebook

Be prepared for some ideas to fail. Openly tried to play into the 'BookTok' trend, an interest on TikTok about people's favourite books and authors. Openly thought it could create a niche for LGBTQ+ literary works. But they were proved wrong.

"It flopped. Nobody cared because our audience want the news and people who care about books on TikTok had never seen us before. So it would have taken us ages to build up a book-loving LGBQT+ community."

Lesson learned: next time, they will think more carefully about which trends matter to their audience. If you want to learn from their mistake, be more selective about the bandwagons to jump on.

What has worked is authenticity - a buzzword often thrown around, but to Dave, it simply means letting your guard down and not having to subscribe to industry norms.

With experience at BBC and News UK as a radio presenter, they know about broadcast traditions and the specific ways audiences expect to receive the news. TikTok users have ripped up that rulebook.

"We made lots of mistakes in growing this channel," Dave says. "We did a lot of straightforward piece-to-cameras: something more akin to a traditional news broadcast but that didn’t work."

Out with received pronunciation and formal attire, in with opening up with your own experiences, is the message.

"I make a video in a hoodie if I feel like wearing a hoodie, or I sometimes even talk about things which are personal to me: I’m non-binary and I’m South Asian.

"Sometimes those kinds of things are relevant to the story, like when reporting on racism or transphobia. Being open about who we are allows us to speak from a place of authenticity."


Are non-binary pronouns recognised where you live? #tiktokunpacks #theythem #pronouns #pronouncheck

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