The Los Angeles Times has assembled a six-person team to create content on Instagram and TikTok for a young and diverse audience who may not already be part of the news publisher’s audience. Called 404 by LA Times, the team includes content creators, artists, filmmakers, writers and even a puppeteer.
But the goal of the 404 team is not to promote LA Times journalism, link to the site, or even create content for the LA Times website. Instead, 404’s main responsibility is to reach people who “don’t subscribe to The Times, don’t know The Times, who are in Los Angeles — who are young and of color and who are learning about the social media,” Samantha said. Melbourneweaver, LA Times associate editor for the public, who oversees the team.
It’s a combination of “people who are maybe in their 30s or 40s – somewhat more established, digitally-focused consumers” and “extremely online college-aged kids,” said Angie Jaime, the LA Times’ first head of creative content. and the 404 team leader. The type of people who are “cord cutters, digital audio listeners – almost exclusively consuming online or mobile media.”
The 404 team members — almost all of whom are new full-time hires at the LA Times — focus on four main categories of content for Instagram and TikTok, according to Jaime: video (TikToks, Reels, mini documentaries), pictures ( memes, illustrations, comics), creator collaborations (content co-created with Los Angeles-based writers, actors, editors, musicians, and artists), and emerging platforms (AR/VR, audio, and livestreams). They post on TikTok once a day (although the goal is to increase this to three times a day) and on Instagram three times a day.
Two weeks after launch, the IG account of the 404 has just over 1,700 subscribers. His TikTok channel is doing better, with over 250,000 subscribers and 3.6 million likes (probably at least partly because Team 404 took over the existing TikTok channel from the LA Times).
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What is the main objective of the 404 team?
Jaime: We are creating this passionate and engaged community. This mode of storytelling – be it a Reel, an illustration, a comic, TikTok – is an invitation. First and foremost, to consume this news or consume this content that we create. But also to dive in and learn more, to get familiar with the kinds of work the LA Times does. We are now creating space for people who may have been underrepresented in mainstream media or misrepresented in mainstream media.
How do you balance the journalistic standards of a newsroom with the lightheartedness of the 404, as far as the LA Times brand goes?
Melbourneweaver: We are really taking a page from the tradition of editorial cartoons. This is how we see ourselves, informed by this brilliant team of journalists who do this important work that we believe in and support. But we are a separate team that is not involved in the creation of any of this content. But [we are here] to comment on it and offer the vibe check of the public that is important to us. Our audience is slightly different from traditional newspaper audiences and we are here to reflect their thoughts, feelings and reactions to things.
So it’s not for those who know well or regular readers of the LA Times?
Jaime: Our content is meant to be self-contained and entirely original. So, it differs from the job of our very skilled and talented core social team, whose job is to efficiently and effectively generate traffic, awareness and direct links. Our overarching goal is to establish and build this community, enhanced through outreach by reaching our audience through social content first. The halo effect reinforces relevance not only for our creative community, but for the Times brand as a whole.
Melbourneweaver: I think the scenario we’re really hoping for is someone seeing a 404 creation and being like, ‘Wait, is this part of the LA Times? What the hell? How cool.’ Then hopefully, when they come across a tweet about a SCOTUS decision from the LA Times, they’re a little more inclined to think, “I trust this. I like this. I appreciate that. Because separately, I encountered different content from another LA Times team that made me feel seen.
Does the 404 team work with other LA Times teams to produce content?
Jaime: Right now we’re very focused on establishing our presence, our voice, our tone. It’s an independent business at least to start with. Is there a future where we continue to grow our collaboration with the rest of the newsroom or other teams outside of the main newsroom? Absolutely. But first and foremost, we’ll start by laying the groundwork and getting established before we start branching out.
Melbourneweaver: We are discussing with the social team how we can cross-promote and share best practices. The Times has a separate lifestyle fashion magazine, and we think of that team the same way. It was a fun thing to explain around the press room: [the 404 team] isn’t more social publishers, they make social content.
Will 404 work with external creators to produce content?
Melbourneweaver: We want to involve outside creators in our streams. We want to give creators and creators of all kinds across Los Angeles a space to grow and show off who they are. This is something we hope to do a lot more.
Jaime: Part of my role as Creator Content Manager is to foster and nurture creative relationships outside of our team. Building mutual relationships with creators who live, work and create content in LA This is something that’s important to me too – we don’t isolate ourselves from the wider world. We invite people to collaborate and participate in their own storytelling. I believe this is a huge opportunity for any newsroom and certainly for The Times – the shared experience of telling stories together, as opposed to top-down or outward broadcast. The 404 truly represents the democratization of this relationship and makes it a shared experience.
Will you pay these external creators?
Jaime: Certainly. We’re still working out the details of this, but it’s very, very important to us to fairly compensate our creators for the work they bring to our team.
Will referrals be sold against 404 content?
Melbourneweaver: We have sponsorships on many of our events and activations for our entertainment side. For film festivals and things like that. So I can imagine a similar pattern for 404, especially in real space. We haven’t really talked about that kind of stuff yet. This needs to be ironed out as we build and get to know our audience better, but we’re totally open to that kind of future possibility.
How will you measure the success of the 404 team, if not to drive subscriptions or traffic to the site?
Jaime: In terms of metrics, our main metric is awareness. Metrics such as reach and impressions, as opposed to number of followers. We want people to become aware of this content organically. A secondary metric that we monitor closely is engagement. But not just things like likes and comments, but those very, very indicative emotional metrics, like shares.
This article has been updated to reflect that 404 per LA Times is the team’s official name.