Case Study

How to start and grow a journalism TikTok account

7 tips from The Baltimore Banner’s audience engagement editor for how to grow your presence on TikTok.

By Krishna Sharma

October 24, 2023

Baltimore Banner Audience Engagement Editor Krishna Sharma films a TikTok.

[This case study was published in The Lenfest Institute’s Solution Set newsletter. Subscribe here.]

So, you want to start a TikTok?

It makes sense: More than half of Americans get their news from social media and TikTok has launched vertical video to the forefront of people’s phones.  For newsrooms with a paywall, it can be a crucial way to reach a large, public audience of potential subscribers.

I joined The Baltimore Banner shortly after its launch in the summer of 2022 as its audience engagement editor and TikTok host. I’ve had a blast growing our TikTok to 45,000 followers and earning some awards.

I’m here to share insights I’ve gained along the way. 

But first, let’s establish Rule #1 of TikTok: There are no rules for TikTok. Whether you hop on trends like The Washington Post, do radio-style street interviews like Boston’s WBZ News Radio or stick to more traditional text-and-visuals like The New York Times, almost anything will work if it’s well-structured and engaging. Finding your unique voice is a process that takes time and experimentation. 

Here’s how I found mine. 

Tip 1: Find your TikTok host

TikTok is a personality-driven platform. That doesn’t mean your news anchor needs to be zany or extroverted, but it does mean your videos will benefit from a familiar face viewers will recognize.

Who would make a good TikTok host? Anyone who enjoys public speaking, pushing journalism into creative spaces, and is comfortable being themselves on camera. 

Tip 2: Hold space for weird emotions

Starting a TikTok is terrifying. Recording your first video is uncomfortable. But once you knock out a few videos, it gets much, much easier. I promise.

Your first video doesn’t have to be a big, voice-defining debut. Just try your best and make some crappy videos. It’s likely no one will watch them, and that’s fine. Developing your voice takes time, and maybe in your 20th video, you might strike gold.


Using music to deter homeless people from sleeping? It’s happened before. But this might be the first time #babyshark has been weaponized in baltimore. #homelessrights #homelessnessinamerica

♬ Chopin Nocturne No. 2 Piano Mono – moshimo sound design

At least, that was my experience. For the first couple of months, most of our videos didn’t get much traction. But when I made one video about a “Baby Shark” speaker that went viral, we gained 9,000 followers, and our account started to really grow from there. 

Tip 3: Give the TikTok host time, resources & independence

I could not have succeeded if The Banner did not offer the following:


Having colleagues, and especially editors, that understand how important social media is to the mission of journalism is priceless. 


Creative autonomy

Making a TikTok is a creative endeavor. For artists to flourish, they need time and space.

I’m afforded a lot of creative freedom, but I also run the final product by our Director of Audience, T.J. Ortenzi, to double-check that I’m not missing anything or messing up. That system of creative freedom with a second pair of eyes goes a long way.

Tip 4: Improvise and adapt 

I avoid storyboarding. Why? Because improvisation plays a huge role in my creative process.

For example, last fall I made a video on food deserts that reached around 1 million people between TikTok and Instagram. (I’ll cross-post most of our TikToks on Instagram, and if it’s less than 60 seconds I’ll also add it to YouTube Shorts.) 

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A post shared by Baltimore Banner | Baltimore news, politics and Baltimore arts (@baltimorebanner)

For the video, I joined a reporter to document the reporting process itself. We wandered around until we found the nearest grocery store, interviewing residents along the way. I took a variety of B-roll shots (still shots, panning shots, selfie shots, etc.) and  found myself structuring the video during the editing process. The visual materials I gathered, and my emotional responses during the reporting process, helped me experiment and figure out the most compelling way to tell the story. 

If I’m recapping an article as an explainer, I will always run a script by a reporter first to make sure my language is accurate. But armed with that language, I let myself explore and play with the final structure. 

Tip 5: Tell the story behind the article

Rather than just share facts, I like to showcase the journalism process itself. How did our reporters (or I) actually come to their conclusions? What surprising twists and turns happened along the way? 

This approach pulls back the curtain and humanizes journalists, which helps build a relationship with your audience. And often, it’s just plain fun. 

Tip 6: Engage

Respond to comments! Chat in the DMs. You never know what may come of it.

During a manhunt for an active shooter in suburban Baltimore County, our TikTok reached 175,000 people, and we ended up interviewing some of the commenters who personally knew the shooter. We’ve crowdsourced health care horror stories that became both a written article and video. And this story came from a tip via TikTok DMs. 

Tip 7: Break news

Our first big video was about how part of Baltimore was in a boil-water advisory due to an E. coli outbreak. When several people commented that they had no idea until they saw our TikTok, we knew how important TikTok could be to breaking news. Our air quality alert reached half a million people on TikTok this summer.


With a little time, patience and an experimental spirit, vertical video can be a goldmine for newsrooms. In June and July of 2023, our TikTok reached 1.3 million unique viewers while our Instagram reached 1.1 million unique viewers – all through vertical video alone. (Our non-video Instagram posts reached an additional 373,000 people in that timeframe.)

I’ve had numerous people tell me that social media is the only way they get our news, and several others even said they bought subscriptions to The Banner because of our TikTok! If there’s one phrase to summarize the importance of social media in journalism, it’s this: meet people where they are. People are on their phones. Your journalism should be, too! 

Photo: Krishna Sharma filming food reporter Christina Tkacik for a TikTok about the grub at Camden Yards. Credit: Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner.

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