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Inside the newsroom: TikTok and ‘OK boomer’ in a week of impeachment inquiry coverage

SHARE Inside the newsroom: TikTok and ‘OK boomer’ in a week of impeachment inquiry coverage
In this Feb. 28, 2018 photo, Matty Nev Luby holds her phone and logs into the lip-sync smartphone app Musical.ly, in Wethersfield, Conn.

In this Feb. 28, 2018 photo, Matty Nev Luby holds her phone and logs into the lip-sync smartphone app Musical.ly, in Wethersfield, Conn.

AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Two things we learned this week:

  1. TikTok is an app worthy of paying attention to.
  2. The term “OK boomer” is the latest dismissive way young people are responding to older people they disagree with, and baby boomers aren’t happy with the disparaging term.

Both topics were explored by Deseret News journalist Herb Scribner, who keeps his reporting eye on trends impacting Utah and the nation. He’s looked at the appropriateness (or not) of a film like “Joker” at a time when gun violence has frayed our nerves. He’s explored movie trailers and how they just might be as important as the movies themselves.

Last week’s story on TikTok was both humorous and carried with it a more ominous warning about national security and a darker side of the app that touches into the world of the provocative and even deeper still into pornography.

We ran Herb’s story under the headline, “My boss doesn’t know what TikTok is. So I wrote this story.” The story was a helpful explainer of what’s going on. Here’s a few more insights from my conversations with Herb.

Question: What did you learn by reporting on TikTok?

Herb: TikTok is more on the rise than I previously thought. I knew it was gaining steam and something young people were using. But I had no idea that there was an entire culture associated with the app. It’s definitely rising in the way other social media apps have, and seems to be sticking around longer than flash-in-the-pan trends. 

I also learned that there is some risk involved with the app. You’re sharing a lot of data, consistently, if you’re on it. And you’re putting your eyes in front of a lot of potentially dangerous stuff. Sure, there’s a lot of lighthearted content and no political ads. ... But you are still involving yourself in an app that is still very much a ‘Wild West.’ It’s still evolving.

Herb is continuing his exploration of the app and the Deseret News is going to go deeper into the risks for individuals and families since it’s growing so quickly. Being a watchdog for the American family is an active part of our reporting culture.

Politico published a story Saturday by Michael J. Socolow, an associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine, taking journalists to task if they fail to recognize and point out TikTok’s origins — Chinese parent company, Bytedance — and what he calls its history of political censorship.

In a story titled “The Trouble with TikTok” he writes: “Journalists should not be promoting a platform with a documented history of political censorship. Nor should journalists use TikTok as a news medium, because TikTok — unlike other attempts to extend authoritarian media globally, such as RT (Russia Today) — relies on its users’ ignorance of its origins and practices.”

Question: Why is it important for readers to pay attention to trends?

Herb: Trends like this help adults feel more up to speed with what their children and the younger population is up to. ... We should be aware so we can understand and teach valuable lessons about how to use those apps appropriately. 

Trends also help us engage in conversations. We can share information about things we learned on TikTok or have seen on social media. ... And if you stay current you’ll never be surprised when something dangerous happens.

Question: You also wrote about “OK boomer,” which became quite a topic of conversation inside the newsroom this week. Why do you think everyone seems to have an opinion on whether it’s appropriate to use it?

Herb: It hits home. We all know people born during the baby boom years (1946-1964) and we all know someone in Generation Z. We are all a part of our own generations and so generational war is something we can all connect with. 

“We are also all very aware of stereotyping and generalizing. We hate being stereotyped and generalized. No one person is like the other. We are all unique. The second we get classified as the same as someone else, we lose our uniqueness and sense of self.

So it’s good we’re talking about it. It’s a lighthearted divide that can open a dialogue between everyone. I know I talked to people I hadn’t talked to in years over the subject.

This week we spent a lot of time reporting on the impeachment inquiry vote and the Utah delegation’s actions and reactions. We’ve written in-depth about the choice Salt Lake residents have as they select between Luz Escamilla and Erin Mendenhall for mayor. But we will also continue to keep an eye on the trends that affect us, sometimes before we even recognize it’s happening.

And we have Herb to thank for helping us stay informed.