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She reads the newspaper on TikTok — and her videos are going viral

Kelsey Russell has grown a following online by reading news articles from print publications.
Demarko Hooper
Kelsey Russell has grown a following online by reading news articles from print publications.

Newspapers are losing the battle against smartphones as the preferred place to learn the news, but one woman has found a way to bridge the divide and bring the print to the people.

Kelsey Russell, 23, makes TikToks — sometimes 8 minutes long — in which she goes through a single article and explains the context along the way.

"I got a subscription to the Sunday New York Times physical copy for my birthday, and I think that bad Gen Z biddies should read the newspaper," she says in one video.

Amid a rapidly changing media landscape, the rise of disinformation, and a bewildering array of social media options, Russell has found a niche as a modern day newsreader — and become a media literacy expert along the way.

Russell said she started reading the news when she finished her first year of graduate school at Columbia University.

"I really felt like I knew nothing. I was struggling to connect what was going on outside of the world to my studies," she told NPR.

A part of Russell feared the news, and she said that everything she read felt like doom and gloom. That experience isn't unique; a Reuters Institute report in 2023 found that interest in news continues to decline, with many people actively choosing to avoid news that feels depressing or overwhelming.

Russell also didn't like reading from a small cellphone screen, either, and it was her therapist who brought her to print newspapers after suggesting she address her anxiety by going back to activities she enjoyed as a kid.

"When I was growing up in elementary and middle school, I would sit down [and] read the newspaper," she said. "My dad would do the same. My mom would do the same. So I said, 'Let me just go back to what made me happy as a child.'"

"And I realized when I read the news on print, I actually had time to process what was going on. And when I would read the same article on my phone I would find my body [was] overwhelmed."

Russell approaches her videos as a learning experience. She tries to read at least one newspaper a day, and in her TikToks she breaks down the kind of article she's reading, and even the history behind the paper or publisher.

"I'm also looking for an article that has words or people, actors, places that I have to look up in order to understand the article more, because I'm a person that believes in letting go of that shame of the unknown," she said.

Russell has almost 90,000 followers on TikTok and more than 5.3 million likes on her videos, and now visits grade schools to give talks on media literacy.

"All of this has catapulted me into a low- to mid-level tier of fame, of influencing, which has led so many newspapers to send me their newspapers," she said.

Note: This video contains some curse words.

Still, Russell said she wasn't seeking to revive the print newspaper industry (a Pew Researchsurvey published in November found that 58% of adults preferred to get their news on digital devices and only 5% preferred print publications) and she instead encouraged people to get their news from wherever they can.

Her priority is simply that the news sources are reputable and readers exercise critical thinking.

"Media literacy is bigger than just reading on print," she said. "It's also a great way for humans to think critically about the whole entire world."

The radio interview with Kelsey Russell was conducted by Ailsa Chang, produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and edited by Patrick Jarenwattananon. contributed to this story

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jordan-Marie Smith
Jordan-Marie Smith is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.

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