The Global Media Weekly for executives and entrepreneurs

Gen Z News Movement steps up

The News Movement (TNM), the London-based social media-news start-up launched in 2021 by former Dow Jones CEO Will Lewis and ex BBC executive Kamal Ahmed, has acquired the four-year-old short-form video outfit The Recount in an equity-only deal.

The deal throws a spotlight on a different kind of news provider. TNM is focused on explainer journalism for Gen Z consumers on TikTok and other social media platforms.

The Recount’s content largely comprises clips from US broadcasters. US media newsletter Semafor said that it had “burned through” its $31m funding and that “Advertisers do not flock to incendiary clips from Fox News for floor speeches by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, though the videos perform well on Twitter”. 

CEO Lewis told Semafor: “This will make us sound like the least sexy media company in the world, but it’s data, it’s an agency, and it’s a news wrapper. We face the world as a news company and correctly so. That’s where our credibility comes from that defines us.” 

TNM investors include Associated Press, in the US, and local publisher National World, in the UK but some 60% of the equity is owned by the founders and staff. It employs 30 people based at AP offices in London and New York. The team is said to have an average age of 24, though that is less than half the age of the two founders. It claims fast-growth across platforms since its launch at the beginning of 2021. But it recently seemed to have just 63,000 followers on TikTok and 19,000 subscribers on YouTube.

TNM aims to generate revenue from ads, from donations (including tips from readers) and – crucially – from B2B consulting for businesses trying to understand and reach Gen Z.

Co-founder Ahmed has said: “We’ve been watching the signals for a long time. Anyone senior in news media has been seeing that people are either switching out of traditional news consumption or never getting there. We wanted to use our experiences to do something about it. We go to where the audience is. We don’t demand that you come to where we are. People don’t have an appointment with the news any more — that’s not how this audience operates. They think, is this material trustworthy and engaging? And could I be spending my time better doing something else?”

Semafor’s co-founder Ben Smith (ex BuzzFeed and New York Times) respectfully says: “The News Movement is an ambitious and well-funded start-up that is hoping to succeed where a generation before it struggled: By building a media brand on other people’s platforms. BuzzFeed (where I was editor-in-chief) and other media companies built huge scale as Facebook exploded in the middle of the last decade, only to find themselves battling the platform itself for revenue and then having to navigate its decline. The new conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t build your business on someone else’s platform. 

“Will Lewis, a canny media veteran who was a star business reporter for the Financial Times before switching to the commercial side and spending six years as CEO of Dow Jones, says he believes he can build a different kind of business. He and The News Movement editor-in-chief Kamal Ahmed, the former editorial director of the BBC, raised $15m for the new venture. Their company is not focused on any of the familiar revenue models for news organizations — subscriptions, advertising, events — but is instead setting itself up as a content studio and social media agency, whose earnest news operation serves as a shop window and data gathering platform.”

Smith adds: “His company’s plan is to translate traditional news values into the visual language of TikTok: hard news couched in informal personal narratives, and delivered by young hosts speaking directly to the camera: ‘Sixty percent plus of GenZs get their news from social media, where the main players are either well-meaning amateurs who put misinformation into the system because they’re not professional journalists, or bad actors who want to influence society in a negative way to their own ends,’ Lewis said. ‘The missing bit are masthead brands that are identifiably for Gen Z by Gen Z.’ “

Jacob Donnelly, of Morning Brew, says: “My issue is that people get excited about what works today, they grow aggressively, and then it stops working because the platforms change priority. This has happened to every ‘pivot to video,’ media company.”

We know what he’s thinking. The News Movement business plan and strategy (even now) does seem more grown up than that of the struggling but once extravagantly-funded BuzzFeed. But even that had looked like a sure-fire winner – for almost a decade.