Behind the Scenes Q&As Reinventing Local TV News

From radio to TikTok: How Matt Shearer has transformed WBZ’s coverage

If the new frontier of reporting is on TikTok, Matt Shearer of Boston’s WBZ Radio is a pioneer. His short-form videos highlight the best Massachusetts has to offer, from the Water Country Jingle to the impassioned followers of Market Basket. 

An Emmy-nominated reporter, Shearer was awarded the National Murrow Award for Excellence in Media Innovation. His TikTok account, @wbznewsradio, has amassed over 6 million likes and 160,000 followers. 

Storybench spoke with Shearer to discuss his experience on TikTok, captivating younger audiences and his hands-on reporting style. 

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

How did your transition from working in radio to making TikToks come about?

It was a request from my boss. He’s always trying to figure out what the next great social network is. At the time, I was the youngest reporter in the newsroom, so I think that’s part of the reason why I was chosen for this task, because it’s a young platform and he wanted someone who could relate to the younger audience.

I didn’t want to do all the trends that you see a lot of people do — the dance moves, the memes and stuff. I [felt] like [that was] just going to make us look like a really old radio station trying to fit in with the kids. What we already do on the air is tell short and compelling stories in 45 seconds or less, and that’s what these platforms are totally built around. So, why don’t we just take the stories that we’re doing on the air, slap some video on them, put them out there, and see what happens? There’s been some evolution there. The video quality, I think, has gotten a lot better. It’s to the point now where we’re not just taking our audio from the air and turning it into videos. We’re taking the videos that we make for social media and turning them into radio content as well, so kind of reverse engineering everything. 

How does being present and active in the story impact the coverage?

For one, I think it makes it more fun. I think it also helps with the goal of taking the listener or the viewer along with us. For example, I did the story with the guy paddling in the giant pumpkin out on the Charles River. 

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It’d be one thing for me to just stand on the shore and film him paddling out and paddling back, but I was like: ‘What can I do to take it to the next level? What if I brought my kayak with me and paddled alongside him and interviewed him from the middle of the water?’ That’s a whole different experience than just seeing a guy from the side of the river. You’re actually in the river with him, and you hear the sounds of the water splashing up, moving with my paddle and splashing against the side of the kayak. It really helped put the listener and the viewer in his shoes, and certainly mine. 

@wbznewsradio It's the great pumpkin, Charles River. #Boston #Massachusetts #NewEngland #HarvardUniversity #HarvardSquare #massachusettsinstituteoftechnology #CambridgeMA #AllstonMA #BrightonMA #CharlesRiver #WatertownMA #BostonUniversity #EmersonCollege #BostonCheck #BostonTikTok ♬ original sound – WBZ NewsRadio

Why do you think younger audiences are drawn to this style of content? 

I think what young people are drawn to in my style is really just the authenticity and the realness. The fact that I don’t put on a news persona and I’m talking to people in my videos like I’m talking to a buddy. For me, anyway, I hope that that’s refreshing. With everything that I’ve done in life in my career, I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want to be like every other radio guy. I don’t want to be like every other reporter. I just want to be me. My theory is that’s what’s appealing about what I do. 

What’s your favorite story that you’ve covered?

My whole goal when I go out to cover a story is to have as much fun as possible. If I’m not having fun doing a story, why should I expect people to have fun watching it? There are a couple that stand out in my mind, like when I tracked down the guy who wrote the Water Country jingle

That was a huge part of childhood growing up, especially for me, as a millennial. We’d hear it on the radio all the time. It was every other commercial in the summer, and it was one that everyone loved. It brought so much joy to people.

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It was just a random idea that I had. Nobody else has done it before. I managed to track down the guy, told his story, and then he dropped that twist at the end, saying that he’d never been to Water Country. I did a follow-up video where I brought him there and, oh my gosh, it was just so satisfying. The video got a lot of views. 

What is your secret to going viral?

Not trying too hard to go viral. When you start playing the numbers game like just chasing numbers constantly, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed. In fact, the videos that I’ve posted that have gone the most viral have been some of the videos that I least expected to go viral.

I think honesty, and realness — that’s what people are looking for on social media. There’s enough fake stuff out there. There’s enough forced content. I don’t even like that word, ‘content.’ What we’re doing in making videos and telling stories and broadcasting is art. It’s all an art form. I think more people need to think of it in terms of that: How can I continue to elevate, and raise the bar?

Michael Earls
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