Jessica Yellin Is a Calm Voice in the Political Storm

Erin Geiger Smith
·7 mins read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From Town & Country

Journalist Jessica Yellin planned to spend last Friday evening on a rare, COVID-safe catch-up with a friend, but the news and 2020 rarely respect plans. Instead she stood in the spare bedroom of her Los Angeles home, with its Room Raterapproved set-up of good lighting, tasteful art, and playful knick-knacks, and went live on Instagram to discuss the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and preview the U.S. Supreme Court nomination process.

For Yellin, who is instantly recognizable from the years she spent covering politics for ABC News and CNN, the at-home studio was a necessity before the coronavirus-era—her Instagram feed has served as a one-women news organization since 2018.

Research shows more and more people are using social media as their go-to for news. And for 343,000 (and growing) followers, Yellin is a reliable calm in the raging political news storm.

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She calls it #NewsNotNoise, and her goal is to avoid the sports-style political news coverage she feels is too-prevalent—who’s up, who’s down, and 24-hour BREAKING NEWS banners—and pare down the day’s top stories via to-camera segments, timely interviews, and screen grabs from reliable news sources complete with added context in clean font and Instagram-familiar pastel boxes. She believes the information needs of her audience—mostly women in their 20s to 40s—are often left out of the larger news conversation.

“They don't want the outrage, the negativity, the anger, and the extreme partisanship. They just want to know things: What's actually happening? Explain what you really mean. Cut the jargon. Tell me two facts that really matter, and give me a context. How did other presidents handle this? Is this better or worse?” Yellin says.

Comedian and actress Anjelah Johnson-Reyes says that's exactly what she needs and gets from Yellin’s feed. She feels like news and information are coming from everywhere, and she wants context delivered in an accessible way. “Can you just explain for me in layman's terms, what does this mean?” Johnson-Reyes says. “And that’s what she provides.” By not playing on people’s emotions and breaking down confusing topics like impeachment in a “very peaceful, calm” way, Johnson-Reyes continues, Yellin makes the facts clear but lets people figure out on their own where they stand.

“What she’s done is unique,” says Peter Hamby, host of Snapchat’s “Good Luck America” and a journalist covering media and politics, and it’s possible because of her news credentials established at national outlets. “It’s harder to build an organic audience like this from scratch when you don’t have pre-existing credibility.”

Yellin is also meeting other criteria busy Americans demand. “What news consumers are most hungry for is not just credible information, but credible information relevant to their lives that is portable, is fast, is efficient, and is delivered according to their daily lives and habits,” Hamby says.

Though politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, commentators like Molly Jong-Fast, and the popular account AGirlHasNoPresident post news and commentary on social media, they come from a distinctly partisan angle. Yellin, in contrast, abides by the tenet of traditional news reporters and remains non-partisan. She provides facts and honest context but never support for a particular candidate.

Her followers include some of Instagram’s most famous faces, like Jennifer Aniston, policy experts like Samantha Power, journalists such as The 19th News’s Errin Haines, and other plugged-in types who use her as a backstop to their daily news intake. For them, Yellin aims to be curator-in-chief, pulling highlights from reputable sources and providing concise takeaways and memorable data points. It’s reliable information, “but with compassion instead of the rage emoji,” Yellin says. “And I pepper it with humor … and some irony and stuff that is from the [News Not Noise] community.”

The community also includes those looking to Yellin first for news, and their feedback keeps her honest in recognizing most people don’t live for political polls and Congressional races. A recent post defined the phrase “lame duck” session (the time between an election and when the newly elected are sworn in) after she was flooded with questions following discussions of post-November Senate maneuvers.

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As the country tumbles toward November 3, Yellin intends to keep focused on explaining what politicians are doing and why, while understanding that, “People are depressed and anxious, and I think that's fueled by confusion,” she says. “If you can cut through that confusion by providing actual information, that in itself is grounding.” Yellin sees it as both a perk and a responsibility of the platform to consider how the news might affect people, and provides websites for mental health support when relevant. Lately, she posts voter registration resources. Her news may be non-partisan, but, Yellen says, “I am not neutral about participation.”

With the hope of growing her team beyond her current small support staff, Yellin launched a subscription option at a variety of price points via Patreon where she offers additional content like Q&As. She also has a partnership deal with Spectrum News, providing weekly content for their news platforms and continues to work outside Instagram, with speaking engagements and television appearances. Her novel, Savage News, came out last year.

What Yellin offers is of course different than a full-force news organization. A person can only cover so much on one feed, and the editorial judgment of what deserves highlighting is hers alone. But, notes Hamby, news organizations and new formats are not zero sum. “You can get a push alert from CNN and go to Jessica’s account for more context,” he says. Being the place people “go to get clarity and answers after you see a meme, get a text, get a push alert—if you can establish that trust you can have a loyal audience over time.”

Yellin is often asked if she just turns on the camera and starts talking, and her answer could be its own “Instagram versus Reality” post. She describes herself as in constant prep-mode, doing an “ongoing digital sweep,” of news stories and political newsletters, as well as checking in with fellow journalists, sources, and her DMs. Her TVs are always on and she checks Twitter upon waking up. Yellin fits in exercise and meditation, but, at least until November, the breaks are brief. She admits, “I posted while we were on our call.”

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