Gen Z loves the newspaper (on TikTok)
Kelsey Russell gets millions of views reading ‘The New York Times.’
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Yesterday, I filled in on The Guardian’s TechScape newsletter, writing about how TikTok’s rise spelled the death of the rest of social media. You can read that here, and sign up for TechScape here! —Kate
Embedded doesn’t have a print edition but you can feel free to print us out:
I can, and have, dedicated thousands of words to Gen Z’s media literacy problem. But you can shout about algorithms, social media clickbait, and the decline of cable news giving way to the rise of influencers until you're blue in the face—none of that matters unless you have a plan for what to do about it. While we’ve been wringing our hands, Gen Z has taken matters into their own.
I came across 23-year-old Kelsey Russell on TikTok while she was doing something decidedly un-TikTok-y: reading the New York Times out loud. There was no dancing, no suspenseful music, not even much editing, but she was still drawing audiences of ten thousand, fifty thousand, even one million viewers—numbers that some news outlets themselves only dream of seeing on Chartbeat.
“I did not realize that years ago Colombia forged a peace agreement, and they’ve just been using Ecuador to traffic drugs,” she exclaimed in an August 23 video about crime and violence in Ecuador. “That’s not cool, bro!”
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Kelsey’s videos work thanks to her sincere and enthusiastic demeanor and the natural and entertaining way that she breaks down complicated stories. She has been invited to tour the New York Times office and is now being wooed by The Washington Post. Before she started reading the news on TikTok, Kelsey found some success with videos helping Black people find their community in Boston (she recommended salons, nightlife destinations, and more). For her 23rd birthday, she asked her parents to get her a subscription to The New York Times, one of the papers her family read when she was growing up. Now she’s getting her master’s in sociology and education at Columbia University.
“I love to go out, so I think it's important that you're doing the other brain work for the brain cells that I'm killing on the weekends,” she joked when we hopped on Zoom. What followed is one of my favorite conversations that I’ve had with a creator for this newsletter. In this interview for paid subscribers, Kelsey shares her insights as to what went wrong with Gen Z and news and why print might actually be the solution to Gen Z’s news aversion. And shoutout to’s who nabbed an interview with Kelsey last week!
In the first video of yours I saw, you said a reason you were making these videos is that Gen Z has a media literacy problem. Why do you think that?