Instagram usually isn’t the first app that comes to mind when people think about breaking news coverage. The platform is known more for selfies, memes and lifestyle posts. But where some see an inhabitable environment for thoughtful breaking, former CNN White House correspondent Jessica Yellin sees an untapped audience.
In less than seven months, Yellin says her news-focused Instagram page has attracted more than 125,000 followers, up from just 1,000 in July. Her secret? “Explain the news in a way the viewers understand,” she said — and on a platform they understand.
“I found that during my career, I was constantly on camera having conversations that I thought left the audience out,” said Yellin, who covered the White House for CNN from 2011 to 2014. “It’s like you’ve walked into a conversation 10 minutes after it’s begun in cable news. It’s a lot of jargon.”
In addition to the jargon, she said that most news coverage alienates female viewers. “I was always told that news is meant to appeal to the demo, which is men ages 18 to 34,” she said. “And that’s why we have to report it like ESPN competition, ‘Who’s up, who’s down,’ and it was my instinct that this is leaving out women.”
It was these two factors that led Yellin’s decision to build her “News Not Noise” brand on Instagram, which is typically used more by women than men, when she returned to journalism following a break to work as a fellow at USC’s Annenberg Center and write a novel, “Savage News,” out this April.
She now spends two to four hours a day posting and updating her content on the platform. Her posts typically consist of an animated title and a 200- to 350-word caption explaining the current news topic. The posts are followed up with multiple 15-second videos posted via Stories throughout the day.
Now her content competes with the digital divisions of broadcasters like ABC and MSNBC where she once worked. Both ABC and CNN have Instagram pages with followers in the millions with a dedicated team running their social accounts.
Despite attracting smaller audiences than traditional media companies, independent journalists and news enthusiasts are finding sizable and loyal followings across social media. News-oriented YouTubers such as Philip DeFranco, Steven Crowder, and Dave Rubin have followings in the millions. The three have been successful at monetizing their content via a mix of donations, ads and subscription fees.
As of now, Yellin isn’t monetizing any of her Instagram content. At this stage, she is primarily focused on building an audience and learning who that audience is and what they want. She plans to eventually expand past Instagram to different platforms and formats, such as podcasts and higher quality video projects that can be shared outside of Instagram.
Yellin’s push into new media comes at a time when more Americans are turning to social platforms like Facebook and Snapchat for their daily news intake. According Pew Research data, two-thirds of Americans rely on social media to stay current on the news.