Behind the Scenes

From radio to TikTok, WBZ News’ Matt Shearer is redefining local news

There’s no question that news is slowly migrating to TikTok — but different outlets are taking different approaches.

For Boston’s WBZ News Radio, radio reporter Matt Shearer is using his fun personality, authentic storytelling abilities, and news-gathering skills to take the station’s account to the next level. As of Monday, Feb. 13, the account has 129 thousand followers — entirely organic growth amassed without the use of paid promotions or advertisements since its creation in April of 2021.

Shearer has used his minute-long videos to cover issues that actually resonate with local New Englanders and reflect their day-to-day interests. For example — the town of Stow’s loss of their beloved Dunkin’ Donuts, or a tulip stand with a Bostonian owner who has a blossoming personality. By taking a modern and authentic approach to social media, Shearer is leading the charge in changing local news.

To grasp the realness of Shearer’s reporting, you should hope to run into him on one of his adventures across New England — but we at Storybench got to hear first-hand about his process and what really works when reporting on TikTok.

How did you get started with TikTok?

So I have been a reporter with the station for a couple of years now, two-and-a-half years now. And strictly it was just on the radio. My only focus was audio. I’d occasionally take a picture and post it on Twitter or something.

But then my boss came to me and said, “Hey, we’re trying to get the station TikTok up and running and we want you to be the guy to get that started. And my initial reaction was like, “great, one more thing I got to focus on” and my biggest fear at the time was that we were going to seem like an out of touch old radio station trying to fit in with the kids.

Because I’m sure you’ve seen, as have I, so many cringy corporations trying to look cool by doing all these trends on TikTok, and it’s just so awkward, and I didn’t want to be that. It would be so easy to fall into that trap being a 101-year-old news radio station.

What was the adaptation process like?

“Now it’s adapting my social media stories to radio, but I’m okay with that even as a radio guy because I see so much potential for growth on these platforms and so much potential for reaching a new audience who otherwise would never press the AM button on their car’s radio.”

Matt Shearer, WBZ News Radio

So what I decided was well, we have a really … strong product on the air, and I really believe in the way we tell stories. We tell stories in 45 seconds or less on the air and that’s sort of exactly what social media is supposed to be. So I said, “Well, why don’t we just find a way to take that audio from the air and adapt it to social media.” 

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And so what that entailed at first was just me shooting random, almost b-roll each time I was out doing a story and then slapping it on top of the audio, putting it up there on the internet, and seeing what happened. And some of those videos did okay, but what really has been a game changer has been focusing on both video and audio simultaneously while I’m out. 

So every interview that I do, I now shoot on video. I try to dedicate a good amount of time to capturing as much video as I possibly can. And now I even sometimes write around the video too, so I have sort of a separate rap that goes out on social media and then a couple that are more adapted to radio. It’s almost like the process has been completely reversed, right? 

It used to be adapting my radio stories to social media. Now it’s adapting my social media stories to radio, but I’m okay with that even as a radio guy because I see so much potential for growth on these platforms and so much potential for reaching a new audience who otherwise would never press the AM button on their car’s radio.

What kind of content have you found works best?

The account now has 128 thousand followers, but some videos clearly do better than others. Photo courtesy Matt Shearer.

The great thing about seeing this huge explosion is going back to what I said earlier about trying not to be that cringy corporation fitting in with the kids. The fact that what we’re doing, which is being authentic and telling the stories like we would anyway, the fact that that’s working and the whole like doing trends thing isn’t necessarily working for other outlets is also really nice to see because I am a huge strong believer in authenticity.

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I’m very anti-phoniness. That’s part of why I think it took me so long to come around to the idea of getting on TikTok because I think there’s a lot of just fake crap on that platform, fake setups, staged skits, and things like that. Anything I post I want to be real and real to me is 100 times more entertaining than anything that’s fake.

How do you find stories? Does someone send you a tip, are you checking email all the time, does your editor send you out, or are you finding them organically?

It’s literally all of the above. I’ll get DMs, I do check in with the editor and we have a little assignment meeting every day with the other reporters. So we go over what’s going on and I may get some stuff that way. 

Other stuff, like you said, it’s just observations that I have while being out and about in town. I do usually run everything by the newsroom just to make sure that people are okay with the story that I’m going to be covering but I’m at a nice point right now where they trust my vision enough to believe me when I say I have a wacky idea and say this is going to be fun.

Tell me about a time when you found a story organically. How’d it do?

I was out covering a random, completely different story, doing some person-on-the-street interviews and I happened to walk into this flower shop and start talking to this guy.

@wbznewsradio Tulips and trash talk. #Boston #Massachusetts #NewEngland #DowntownBoston #BostonSports #BostonAccent #BostonAttitude #Florist #FloristsofTikTok #BostonTikTok #BostonCheck #MassachusettsTikTok #MassachusettsCheck ♬ original sound – WBZ NewsRadio

And as I’m talking to him, I’m like, this guy is way better than anything else related to that other story. I’m going to focus 100% of my effort on this guy and I ended up hanging out with him for over an hour and just talking. And so I just made the story, a little feature about this florist in Boston. I kind of made it slightly topical by mentioning the fact that he’s all stressed out getting ready for Valentine’s Day. But at the end of the day, the florist was the star and really kind of took off that story kind of took on a life of its own.

Eamonn Ryan
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