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December 8, 2022updated 30 Jan 2023 9:12am

The News Movement launches in London with mission to ‘really understand’ Gen Z

The News Movement's editor-in-chief Kamal Ahmed on his mission to understand Gen Z.

By Charlotte Tobitt

The News Movement’s editor-in-chief Kamal Ahmed has said the “hard yards” being put in at the start-up to “create a new way” of providing useful news and information to Gen Z are paying off.

Social-first The News Movement marked its official launch after a year in beta with a London party on 1 December. Without paying to boost its audience or advertise itself, the brand has recently crossed the 100,000 total follower mark across its social platforms: Tiktok (67,000), Youtube (19,000) Twitter (7,000), Facebook (450), Snapchat (1,000) and Instagram (6,250).

It now has 46 staff in total, with 17 journalists in the UK and seven based in New York.

The News Movement’s aim is to create “a new way of thinking about how you provide news and useful information” for 18 to 25-year-olds or anyone who is “engaged by new forms of storytelling,” according to ex-BBC News editorial director Ahmed.

Its explainer videos do particularly well, he said, as do lives. TNM also runs a series called “Take Me There” going behind the scenes – for example, into a drugs testing tent at a festival – while subject matter that appears to make an impact includes “self” – adulting, rented homes, mental welfare, higher education – entertainment, climate and the environment, and notions of equity and fairness.

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The brand is also keen to increase its original journalism, with its journalists travelling to places like the Syrian border camps and the migrant camps in Calais. It sent two journalists to the World Cup in Qatar, covering issues off the pitch such as how to get a pint.

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“Our audiences want things to be done simply – never patronising, never simplistic, but straightforwardly,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed, editor-in-chief of the new venture, told Press Gazette the day before the launch party – attended by the likes of ex-Sky News presenter Adam Boulton, podcast producer supremo Dino Sofos, ITN chief executive Rachel Corp and Pink News chief executive Benjamin Cohen – that the biggest challenge had been deciding where to focus their efforts “in a world where the possibilities are genuinely endless”.

There are four main parts of the business: The News Movement’s own journalism, partnerships helping other media organisations reach younger audiences under the “With TNM” umbrella, helping brands with their own storytelling so they can connect with the next generation of talent or consumers, and the data analytics business of becoming experts in the Gen Z audience.

What does being a ‘listening business’ mean?

The News Movement has already been building an “intelligence repository on social media publication – not just for news but for all content” through the results from its own journalism, Ahmed said. It has gained expertise on “workflow, ways of working, publication cadence, when to publish, from where, [and] which formats work”.

The brand has now partnered with management consultancy Oliver Wyman on a two-year data research project exploring the lives, views and behaviours of 18 to 25-year-olds.

The first report from the research will be presented at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos on 17 January, with reports to follow each month afterwards on topics such as the media, financial literacy, and climate.

“We’ve always said that we want to be a business that is not only for the next generation of consumers, but really understand that generation,” Ahmed said.

The News Movement’s newsrooms in both London and New York have an average age of 24 – as well as more experienced editorial leaders such as Ahmed and managing editor and ex-BBC News head of video Jonathan Paterson – but generating this data will mean they can back up their claim they know more than anyone else about that generation.

Ahmed described The News Movement as a “listening business” and added: “If you don’t understand your audience, who are socially native, who are the next generation of consumers, you’re going to struggle to engage them. And that’s a really important part of our model and an important part of not only our editorial approach but also our commercial approach.”

He also suggested acting on this understanding of the young audience could help tackle news avoidance, a growing worry among many publishers. This year’s Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the UK is among several countries to have seen a bump in consumers sometimes or often actively avoiding the news, with this group growing from 24% in 2017 to 46% in 2022 in part because of people fed up with the news having a negative effect on their mood.

A 19-year-old woman in the UK told the study: “Truthfully, I don’t like to dwell too much on the mainstream news. I find sometimes it can be repetitive and negative.” A 22-year-old woman said she actively avoids political news as it “frustrates” her and makes her “feel small”.

Ahmed described this as “a real problem for journalists, adding: “This deep understanding of audiences, what motivates them, what engages them, what their fears are, what their hopes are, what their desires and loves are is an important part of audience understanding needed for better editorial offers for your audience.

“So that’s a significant thing for us that we really put a lot of effort into… we are working together to really understand this audience that is in the next generation of consumers.”

‘Get the business right and profitability will follow’

Ahmed co-founded The News Movement alongside former Dow Jones chief executive Will Lewis who is its chief executive and publisher, as well as ex-Dow Jones group chief product and technology officer Ramin Beheshti, ex-Dow Jones chief of staff Eleanor Breen, and former Wall Street Journal head of technology Dion Bailey.

The founders put the original seed money in while all staff also have shares, meaning two-thirds of the business is owned by its founders and employees.

The rest of the funding, which is around $15m in total, has come from parties that believe in the cause – including friends of the founders and a small number of established media groups.

The four strands of the business mean The News Movement has a “varied model”, with Ahmed saying “you cannot expose yourself to simply be reliant on one revenue stream because that can change very rapidly”. The journalism side of the business is based on advertising revenue with a small but potentially growing stream to come from micropayments from users, or tipping, following a recent period of experimentation.

Ahmed said tipping and showing some small financial appreciation for content creators is “not unusual” for younger generations, who have accepted making donations to their favourite streamers on livestreaming service Twitch or the notion of a “buy me a coffee” link on donations platform Kofi.

“We’re still in a world where we’re thinking about my generation who sort of pay for subscriptions and remember chequebooks and things like that,” he said.

“This generation do everything on their phone. It’s all about frictionless and it’s all about showing your appreciation in the right way for brands you love and that is where TNM is investigating how we create more relationships with our growing audiences.”

Asked about The News Movement’s timeline to profitability, Ahmed said: “It’s really important to get the business right, to be producing the right content. If you get it right, profitability will follow… We’re very, very excited by the collaborations and the projects we’ve been able to find already so early in our lives. There’s much, much more to come, which is brilliant and exciting. But we are focused on getting our business right.”

One risk of building a business on social media engagement is being reliant on platforms that you do not run, as Ahmed acknowledged. “But that is where the audience is,” he said.

“We want journalism to get to big audiences, journalism really matters and we have to go to where our audience is. And that means you have to have relationships with Tiktok, with Youtube, with Twitter, with Instagram, with Snap, with Reddit, et cetera,” he added, despite the “opaque” algorithms that can leave journalists wondering why certain stories didn’t take off.

Ahmed added that he and his team have, however, had “very positive conversations with the platforms about why news matters”.

“I think the platforms have got a situation and a stage in their development, where they realise they have to partner and they have to show that their platforms can support trusted news and useful information… I think the engagement from the platforms has been something where they realise they are being held to account now.

“There is political pressure, there is regulatory pressure, they have got to show a different attitude from the one maybe that was true five years ago, where we were slightly begging for some space and slightly begging for some money. That doesn’t work. Platforms are now an essential part of the information ecology that the public see and we know that if it’s allowed to be overrun with misinformation and bad actors a good society will suffer and we’ve all got to play our part.”

AP and National World partnerships

One of the most significant recent developments at The News Movement has been the launch of its first partnerships, with Associated Press – which has welcomed the start-up brand into its offices in London’s Camden after it began life in ITN’s basement – and ex-Trinity Mirror boss David Montgomery’s National World.

The partnerships mean The News Movement dedicates some journalistic time to the brands but each agreement can work slightly differently. At National World, which owns legacy brands like Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman as well as a new series of “World”-branded city sites, Ahmed’s team are involved in their editorial discussions in their morning meetings and help them produce social and website content aimed at a younger audience. Part of the AP deal includes The News Movement helping to run the agency’s Tiktok channel and Youtube Shorts.

Ahmed said it was “fantastic” to work with a “business of the importance journalistically as the AP,” adding: “We’ve always said at The News Movement we’re not just about what TNM’s doing, we’re about what is journalism and what is the news industry doing and I think the Associated Press project and collaboration is a really strong signal that we are working with media partners on helping journalism get to new audiences.”

Podcasts could also become another string to The News Movement’s bow as it has “well advanced” developments in the audio space likely to be announced in the new year. This could involve both producing its own podcasts and signing deals to produce audio content for other brands.

Ultimately, Ahmed said, it is “not just news that needs a rethink” but it is the same for “many organisations who have a purpose and have values that we share and need to be able to tell their stories in the right kind of way”.

In news, though, he is clear The News Movement is “not a replacement, this is an and. It’s not an either”.

And although it has been “hard yards” so far, he added: “We’re delighted with the positive response we’ve been getting to this idea of creating a new way of thinking about how you provide news and useful information, and the broader idea about how you provide engaging content.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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