The New York Times' 'Truth Is' campaign moves to TikTok, shines spotlight on the journalists

Latest film created with Droga5, as well as four ads for the social video platform, put the focus on the Times’ 1,700+ reporters

Published On
Sep 13, 2021

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Since its debut in 2017, New York Times advertising has explored the importance of truth in consumers’ lives and the struggles it takes to find it. Now, in the latest iteration of its “Truth Is” campaign with Droga5, the Times shines a light on those driving that quest for the truth—the journalists.

The campaign features, once again, real footage captured by Times reporters, but this time, they’re the ones in focus–in a new TV spot and the brand's first-ever ads to run on TikTok.

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In the main film, quick cuts of reporters' videos taken on the job are interspersed with their voiceover clips discussing what inspires them, backed by an ethereal vocal track. “I love finding ... things that other people don’t want me to know,” says one. “You find yourself in these situations and see who you are,” says another.

And unlike previous spots which have featured myriad dancing text and copy, the scenes and sounds in this ad are tied together with a single word, “by,” the two letters that precede every reporter’s name in their stories. A litany of their names then appears, calling out journalists such as photographers Malin Fezehai and Tamir Kalifa, the Style section’s Valeriya Safronova, opinion writer Esau McCaulley, investigative reporter Ian Urbina and many more. The final line reads, “The truth takes a journalist.”

“Readers see the bylines on our stories, but rarely get the opportunity to go beyond them,” says Amy Weisenbach, senior VP-marketing at The New York Times Company.

“We wanted to take the really simple, often overlooked two-letter word that we see on every piece of journalism, ‘by,’ and fill it with as much meaning and character and life as we could,” adds Droga5 Executive Creative Director Toby Treyer-Evans. “We figured that if we could change people's relationship with this word, the next time you see it on the top of an article, you'd see it in a completely different way and therefore, hopefully appreciate the journalism in a way that you hadn’t before.”

“Previously, we focused very much on the individual,” adds Droga5 Executive Creative Director Laurie Howell. “Although this piece features individuals, it's about the group as well. It's taking that little word ‘by’ and then showing how behind it, there are so many different types of voices and journalists doing so many different types of journalism.”

The ads are targeting those readers who appreciate the quality and impact of independent journalism, but are not subscribers. “We’re betting that making a more emotional, one-to-one connection between our journalists and our readers will inspire more readers to support our journalism by subscribing,” Weisenbach says.

The leap to TikTok

In underscoring this connection, the New York Times is advertising on TikTok for the first time. “We recognize TikTok is a growing platform that plays an outsized role in culture,” Weisenbach explains. Four ads for the platform, created in-house at the Times, are framed in TikTok’s familiar first-person style and highlight reporters through their past coverage.


One follows journalist Priya Krishna exploring the popularity of “MREs,” or meals that are ready-to-eat, during the pandemic. In another, photojournalist Fezehai follows a synchronized swimming team in Jamaica vying to get to the Olympics. A third features international reporter Amy Qin as she explores how a Chinese village is working to keep alive its tradition of indigo dyeing, while a fourth sees Andes Bureau Chief Julie Turkewitz capturing how inequities in Latin America come into sharp relief during the pandemic.




“We wanted to highlight reporting that our audience could really immerse themselves in, and get a sense of the effort and dedication it takes to create Times journalism,” Weisenbach says as to why these particular stories were chosen.

The Times itself does not yet have a TikTok account, but Weisenbach notes that some of its products such as Wirecutter have seen early success on the platform. According to a TikTok representative, the platform has seen massive growth in advertising in recent years. From January to December 2020, it saw a 500% increase in advertisers running campaigns in the U.S. 

In total, the effort highlights more than 30 of the New York Times’ 1,700+  journalists. “We would have loved to feature every single one,” Weisenbach says. Those chosen had enough assets that could tell their stories succinctly to fit the brevity of an ad. Droga5,  the Times’ in-house team and production partners at production company Somesuch and editorial shop Final Cut sifted through thousands of hours of footage to use in the final ads. Somesuch’s Camille Summers-Valli directed the main spot. 

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A digital out-of-home ad from the campaign

The anchor film will be running on linear and streaming TV as well as on YouTube. The push will also include audio ads on Spotify and Stitcher and out of home in New York City subway stations. The various assets will also run on NYT’s platforms. 

The campaign is the next major push to follow last year’s “Life Needs Truth” film that depicted how Times reporting was essential to help readers cope with 2020’s array of struggles. Since then, Weisenbach says subscriptions have seen considerable growth. During its last earnings call in August, President and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien announced the Times now has more than 8 million paid subscriptions across its print and digital products. Total subscription revenue also grew 16 percent that quarter, marking the largest year-on-year subscription revenue gain in more than a decade. 

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Another digital out-of-home ad puts focus on the reporter behind the story