Credit: TLDR News

Most news organisations are working hard to engage younger readers to future-proof their business model. However, reaching the under-35s is proving notoriously tricky, especially for the legacy media.

Seeing the gap in the market, 23-year-old computer science graduate Jack Kelly created his own YouTube channel, TLDR News, to help young viewers make sense of the stories dominating the news cycle.

Launched in 2017, TLDR News has accrued more than 350,000 subscribers on the platform with its explainer-style content and has recently launched two new channels focused on the United States and the European Union.

Despite YouTube being a fast-growing market for the under-35s, Kelly was disappointed in the UK’s major news outlets' lack of social video strategy.

"I was noticing a fairly big gap in their portfolio when it came to online videos. A lot of media organisations were doing pretty well on their own websites and some were doing decently well on Facebook, but looking specifically at YouTube, it was an area that was massively underdeveloped.

"As someone who’s always been excited about politics, I thought 'why not give it a go' and see what we can do better than the big organisations."

Kelly added that the timing of his project’s creation - the start of the Brexit negotiations - proved lucky for the channel, giving TLDR News plenty of opportunities to explain the next developments in the process and increase channel’s following.

"Whereas a lot of articles assume a certain amount of knowledge walking in, we try and not assume that and explain everything from the ground up each time without getting too repetitive.

"We were in the right place, right time with it. No one else was doing what we were doing and there was a big topic that people were interested in."

Once it was clear there was a demand for their type of content, the team also worked on building the channel’s other social platforms, as well as a Patreon page to ensure the sustainability of their business model.

"It was about trying to build a community around it and not just rely on the algorithm and organic growth."

It is this community and the start-up spirit of the organisation that Kelly said gives TLDR News an advantage when it comes to funding its work, as the supporters are genuinely passionate about the brand.

Part of building any community is creating trust. With news from social media channels trusted considerably less than on other platforms, Kelly places great importance on impartiality of the content TLDR News produces and says it is a core value of the company.

"The fact that we are impartial is something a lot of people respect, and I think that’s why people are so willing to support us because they were really calling out for an online news source that sticks to the facts, rather than getting into the rhetoric and the argument."

The team aims to go to the source for information, reaching out to relevant organisations and people when researching a topic to explain. They also monitor a variety of media sources, as well as delving into press releases, official documents, transcripts and records when finding topics to cover and producing a video.

We’ve got an advantage because we are young people talking to young people and whilst those people probably exist in larger organisations, they’re not the ones making the high-level, strategic decisions.

Any information or quotes they use from a different organisation are checked before publication, with references made to the sources through screenshots of online articles or links to reports in the video's description. However, as the team build up their resources, they aim to be even more transparent about their sources.

Roughly 70 per cent of the channel’s audience is in the 18-34 demographic. Kelly credits some of that success to tailoring the content they produce to the platform and embracing some ‘traditional’ YouTube techniques that other content creators adopt to build their channels. 

This includes being open to their audience about projects they are working on, engaging with volunteers to help with news coverage, and selling merchandise of graphics they use in their videos - namely their ‘countries with shoes’ icons.

This also helps diversify revenue streams, particularly as some YouTubers have faced issues with the monetisation of their content in recent years. TLDR News’ "tripod of revenue streams", as Kelly describes it, is crucial in their sustainability.

"That means that one of those can take a dip one month and it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, we can afford to grow the company with employing more team members, office space and equipment."

With Britain’s exit from the European Union complete, Kelly said he is on the lookout for what might be the ‘next big thing’ for the channel to cover, although the UK’s trade negotiations with the 27-member bloc will still feature over the coming months. The team has already started producing content explaining the spread of COVID-19 and the controversial HS2 rail project, and are also working on creating a long-form documentary on Brexit, to be released later this year.

Kelly explained that, if news organisations want to engage Generation Z audiences, they need to play to the platform they are trying to reach out to people, and engage those young people in their own voice.

"Often the people who are making the decisions in big organisations don’t have the insight that we have in terms of how young people act and react on social media.

"We’ve got an advantage because we are young people talking to young people and whilst those people probably exist in larger organisations, they’re not the ones making the high-level, strategic decisions."

However, bringing young people into newsrooms cannot be simply a tick-box exercise.

"When you’re bringing in new people to help you reach a new demographic, it’s important that it comes from a real place of honesty and them having a purpose."

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