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This 23-year-old media literacy influencer wants you to read the paper

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Physical newspapers are not winning the battle against smartphones and computers as places to learn the news. I mean, that is safe to say. But one woman makes it a point to read print newspapers on social media.

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KELSEY RUSSELL: 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.

CHANG: Twenty-three-year-old Kelsey Russell makes TikToks, sometimes 10 minutes long, where she goes through a single article and explains the context along the way. So far, she's gotten more than 5 million likes.

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RUSSELL: 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.

CHANG: Lucky. Kelsey Russell now speaks to classes about media literacy, and she joins us today. Welcome.

RUSSELL: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us. OK. We should mention you were not a journalist, but I want to ask, how did you land on the news as a way to connect with people?

RUSSELL: Sure. I am not a journalist, and thank goodness that journalists have the training that they do. What landed me to love the news was I turned 23, and I was afraid of the news. I didn't like reading it on my phone. I didn't really like watching it on TV. So I decided, let me go back to what I used to consume the news when I was little, and that was a newspaper. When I was growing up in elementary and middle school, I would sit down, read the newspaper. 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.

CHANG: Do you see a big difference between reading an article in print versus reading that exact same article on your phone or on a computer screen?

RUSSELL: Oh my goodness, yes. And I always say for two reasons. One component is actually mental health. I feel like we don't talk about enough when we consume our news on our phone compared to in print. There was this other thing going on in the background where I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, and my therapist actually suggested going back to what made me happy as a kid. And print gave me a second to just - whoa, that happened in the world. That made me sad. I'm going to go on a walk. And it's just been so much better.

CHANG: So tell me. How do you go about making one of these videos?

RUSSELL: (Laughter) Yes. I usually try to read one publication a day. And while I'm reading that publication, of course I'm learning for myself, but I'm looking for an article that typically has three things. I'm looking for an article that pulled me in for some random reason. 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 really believes in, like, letting go of that shame of the unknown, right? If we don't know something, let's look it up and figure it out.

CHANG: Yeah.

RUSSELL: And the third thing is it typically talks about something that's familiar for people, whether that's fashion, food. I annotate it. I split it up into how many points I'm going to talk about, explain for fifth- to eighth-graders. Then I just put the camera down, and I'm Kelsey, and I share what I learned.

CHANG: I love it. Well, in an age where it seems like everybody is on social media all the time, like, how do you think media organizations can get more people to ingest and process and analyze the news?

RUSSELL: I think if media companies looked at their stories as something more circular, right? Like, we're putting this story out about national security. How can we make sure that our audience on a TikTok can go to the newspaper and get something juicier or deeper? - if they go on Instagram, that they're promised to get a different angle, which I think means that you have to have a team, you have to have employees, you have to have voices that are coming from different generations, different spaces.

CHANG: That is Kelsey Russell. She reads the news on TikTok. Thank you so much for being with us, Kelsey.

RUSSELL: Of course. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jordan-Marie Smith
Jordan-Marie Smith is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.