Few would disagree that the media industry has changed drastically in the last few years, with the traditional giants of print and broadcast media gradually losing their monopoly to smaller companies and newer platforms. However, despite all this change and dynamism, there are some people who believe that the media is still far too out-of-touch, and that a radical new approach is needed. Two such people are Imogen Learmonth and James Hutt, Editor-in-Chief and consultant respectively at Thred Media. They sat down with The Oxford Blue to discuss their global aims, how they’re taking inspiration from TikTok, and incorporating new platforms in to their service

For readers who are not yet familiar with Thred, Imogen is happy to explain, her enthusiasm evident. “We are a news source run by Gen Z for Gen Z,” she explains, “so we try and stay abreast of news topics that might be relevant to the young generation, and we try to be as informative as possible, on things we feel are pertinent and relevant to the future generation.” This might seem an unnecessary niche in an already crowded market, but the people behind Thred are confident that they offer something not only new, but radically different from what is currently on offer. “A lot of big news sources, like the BBC or the Guardian, can’t always guarantee that a lot of their demographic will be caring about what happened to the world in 10, 20, 30 years, because maybe they’ll be dead,” says Imogen, who graduated from Oxford in 2018, “so the whole idea behind Thred is that the future matters to us as young people.” This emphasis on the future and commitment to Gen Z-oriented content manifests itself in a focus on social change, and in particular climate action, across all of Thred’s many platforms. “A lot of Gen Zers felt that the environment and biodiversity harm and things like that were being ignored by the mainstream media just because these media sources were run by people who didn’t grow up immersed in those narratives,” Imogen says of the decision to prioritise environmentalist issues.

One branch of Thred that may seem disconnected from this is the company’s consultancy service. However, James maintains, this is far from the case. “The business side has grown up to make sure that we can keep doing what Thred media does so well,” he says, “we think of ourselves as a social enterprise, but that means we’ve got to grow up as a business as well.” The business side of Thred is necessary, then, to ensure the survival and growth of the creative side of things. Yet this is not the only function served by the consultancy arm of Thred: “not only are [Gen Z] not being represented by, I hesitate to use the term ‘mainstream media’, given who normally goes about that, but that’s coming the other way,” James, himself a Cambridge graduate, argues, “brands, movements, communities, unless they’re really Gen Z-focused or Gen Z-led, are failing to understand what young people today want as well. And so we’re seeing lots of brands making missteps. You see advertising campaigns that are just crass, or uncool; the consulting side has grown up to work with those brands.” Thred clearly see themselves as the voice of young people in the world of business, as well as media.

While Thred may be committed to a new form of media and consulting, this is only secondary to the primary aim of engaging and uniting young people across the globe, and this is why Thred maintains a presence on such a wide variety of different social media platforms. “One of the most valuable things for us when it comes to social media is being able to engage in a community,” Imogen remarks, “so we do a lot of work trying to bring attention to Gen Z creators, whether that be entrepreneurs in business, creators in gaming or YouTube, or young people making waves generally in social change, young climate activists, etc. And quite often they rely on social media for their following, so it’s really great for us; we write articles, and we profile them, we do exclusives. But in some ways, the most helpful thing we can do for them is to profile them on social media where we can cultivate their following. And we can also take the following of, say, a climate activist doing really great things in Australia and New Zealand, and introduce their following to someone in Iceland who’s doing something similar.” This emphasis on global impact becomes something of a theme over the course of this interview, as the ambition with which the people at Thred are approaching their task becomes clear.

That social media is a vital part of Thred Media’s plans is something that both James and Imogen are keen to stress. “We are not burdened with legacy technology or legacy ideas,” James states boldly, “it’s a platform built with the idea that consumers are multimedia; they will expect to be able to engage with you on Instagram as much as on your website. And so we’ve looked to be across multiple different platforms, and to provide space where people can talk to and meet other people. We are ultimately a resource; we are there so that the community who are interested in this, which is a staggering proportion of Gen Zers, are able to meet and to learn from other movements around the world. So we’ve set up a Discord platform, which we will be starting to invite people to in the coming weeks, which is envisaged as a space where people who are linked by age and by interest can meet to discuss [issues].” Discord is primarily a messaging and chatting platform, and so that it is a key part of Thred’s plans is a testament to the fact that they want young people not merely to be listeners, viewers and readers, but to be active participants.

Despite this, James insists that it is important for Thred to keep their options open regarding different platforms. “Look at how much things have changed in the last five years, ten years. And if there’s one thing that would make us stand out as not in touch with Gen Z, it would be pinning our mast to a single channel of delivery,” he notes cautiously, before making the more general point that “what is essential to what Thred is doing is making sure that Gen Z’s voices, Gen Z’s stories, and the reality that they’re facing around the world, is what’s being presented.” Imogen adds to this point that “it’s tough to make predictions on these things, because even tech experts can’t. But hopefully, we’ll be able to adapt; our platform and our ethos and our mantra, we think, are adaptable. And we think the ideas that we have, in terms of global community, do really fit in with social media, however it manifests. So we’re hoping we can be quite plastic in that sense.” It is clear, then, that the only certainty for Thred Media over the next few years is that they will adapt to whichever new platforms are best suited to the goals they are trying to achieve.

Even in the short term, Thred’s openness to new methods and platforms is something that they believe sets them apart from the crowded market that is digital media. “We’ve been fiddling with journalism via YouTube videos, and we’ve got animated videos that try to explain aspects of articles we’ve written in a multimedia setting,” Imogen says, “I find them really, really engaging, and I think Gen Z do as well. With the rise of things like Tiktok, they’ve really signalled that they want this digestible content where they don’t necessarily have to sit down and turn off all the other sources of media around them and engage entirely in words on screen. [That’s] something that a lot of news sources are not incorporating into their journalism.” Few can deny the impact of Tiktok as a cultural phenomenon on young people globally, so Thred will surely not be alone among media companies in attempting to learn from and emulate the Chinese video sharing app.

If embracing these new forms of media will not make Thred unique, they have something else up their sleeve that they are more confident will make a difference: their new approach to media is summed up by James with the catchy tagline “global reach, local feel.” This is an area in which Thred has big plans: “we’re planning on extending our network of writers into the global sphere; we have this model that we’re hoping to move forward to eventually, of remote writing,” Imogen says enthusiastically, before offering more contemplatively, “the era of reporting that has sovereign borders is over – there’s a lot more that Gen Z have in common with one another in a global sense than they do necessarily with people that live in their state or their country.” In contrast to Imogen’s somewhat philosophical point, James elaborates on Thred’s strategy and immediate plans, explaining that “We have writers who are living and breathing this space all day, every day, they’re speaking to members from Gen Z, they’re speaking to activists, they’re speaking to members of movements, who are making change around the world. And one of the things we want to do is to grow that writer base. [That’s] why we want to come to Oxford: it is home to some of the brightest and best writers in Gen Z, who are already passionate about this stuff. We want to grow this community of writers around the world.” 

While making a broader point about the need for global reach, Imogen says, almost as a footnote, but rather poignantly, “our entire business model wouldn’t work if we didn’t believe that Gen Z were fundamentally activists and really wanted to do something to further social good.” In bold statements such as this, James and Imogen’s optimism and ambition shine through. Some might dismiss these lofty aims as the naivety of youth, but then again, for James, Imogen and everyone else at Thred Media, that might be more of a compliment than an insult.

The Oxford Blue‘s full interview with Imogen and James can be found on our YouTube channel here.

If you would like to get involved with Thred as a writer, ambassador or in any other capacity, email [email protected].

Elliot Sturge was Editor-in-Chief at The Oxford Blue for Hilary Term of 2021. He is reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St. John's College, and is in his second year. Outside of term-time, he can be found at his home in Bristol, though why anyone should wish to find him is unclear.