Mar 30, 2020

Axios AM

🧼 Situational awareness: The Wall Street Journal calls this "America’s Make-or-Break Week."

  • "American companies, from the owner of a single liquor store in Boston to corporate giants like Macy’s Inc., must decide what to do about April’s bills: Which obligations do they pay and which can they put off? How many employees can they afford to keep on the payroll? Can they get a break on rent?"
  • Why it matters: "Decisions made in the next few days will shape how coronavirus impacts the economy."
1 big thing ... The next American struggle: The waiting

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There are now a lot of known knowns about the coronavirus:

  • It's here, it's spreading, it's stressing hospitals, it's crippling the economy, it's slowed only by distance and isolation — and it's sure to get much worse before it gets much better. 

Why it matters: There is a sameness to the patterns and known unknowns. So now we hit the maddening stage of waiting, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei writes:

  • We wait and watch Wuhan and China to see if life really does return to normal once the virus is contained. The global economy hinges on this light at the end of the tunnel. 
  • We wait and watch Italy to see when its daily death rate peaks, plateaus and then plunges. This will give us a sense of how long highly concentrated outbreaks elsewhere might last. 
  • We wait to see when New York hits its apex (two to three weeks, experts say) and watch how bad it gets. We also watch New Orleans and Detroit to see if New York is an early indicator or an anomaly. 
  • We wait for widespread testing to be a reality so we can find out if the virus has spread far beyond our fears. 
  • We wait to see if Dr. Anthony Fauci's projection of 100,000 to 200,000 potential U.S. deaths is accurate — and, if so, how the media, public and markets might react to multiple days with death tolls beyond the nearly 3,000 lost on 9/11. 
  • We wait to see Trump's next move in his itch to "reopen America" after his extension yesterday of distancing guidelines through April 30. Does he continue to listen to his scientists, or eventually side with advisers who fear economic disaster if America stays home too long?
  • We wait and watch as drug companies race for a cure, which industry insiders say won’t happen at scale until 2021. We wait to see the consequences of using experimental meds to slow or salve. 

The big picture: This waiting period will expose whether coronavirus was an awful three months we will never forget — or a once-in-a-lifetime disruption and destroyer of life.

2. Coronavirus pushes traditional businesses into digital age

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A slew of old-line industries that hesitated to embrace digital technologies are now being forced to for the sake of survival, Axios' Sara Fischer and Kim Hart write.

  • Why it matters: Once consumers get used to accessing services digitally — from older restaurants finally embracing online ordering, to newspapers finally going all-digital — these industries may find it hard to go back to traditional operations.

Media and entertainment: Venerable mediums like television, newspapers and movies are all quickly moving their content to digital formats and online delivery as they struggle to adapt.

  • Some weekly newspapers are ending or pausing print editions, and all publishers are ramping up digital operations. "We will look back on these events as a moment at which the newspaper industry’s transition from print to digital accelerated meaningfully," says Jim Friedlich, executive director of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a nonprofit that supports local news and is the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • Television interviews are overwhelmingly being conducted via Skype or other digital channels. There's been a major uptick in internet video and streaming consumption, per Nielsen. More than a quarter of Americans (26%) are using video streaming services, like Netflix, for the first time, per the Consumer Technology Association.
  • Some movie studios, like Universal Pictures, have said that they will for the first time roll out movies to digital audiences at the same time that they make them available in theaters due to the crisis.

Retail: Brick-and-mortar shops that never sold goods online are moving there as stores nationwide shut their doors and customers can't leave their homes.

  • Sellers who had offered a limited selection of their wares online are now shifting to full-catalog service.
  • Powell's Books, an iconic Portland independent bookstore, was able to rehire 100 laid-off store employees after a surge of online orders from devoted customers.
  • Offline-only retailers, including big names like Marshall's and TJ Maxx, are on the sidelines until in-person shopping returns.

Restaurants that didn't adopt online ordering or delivery are suddenly finding those services are their lifeline.

Workouts and fitness: Everything from ballet lessons and karate classes to physical therapy sessions and yoga instruction has gone virtual.

3. Zuckerberg interview: New help for struggling local news

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Mark Zuckerberg, signaling his personal involvement in a new Facebook commitment of $100 million to bolstering local journalism, told me that "very local work" is vital to his big mission of bringing the world closer together.

  • "Everyone believes that local journalism is incredibly important," Zuckerberg said in a phone interview. "But everyone is connected to their local [outlets]. Figuring out how to make an impact, and support local journalism broadly and at scale, has been a challenge."
  • "We know that a lot of journalists are working really hard under very difficult conditions, when getting accurate information is incredibly important," Zuckerberg continued. "At the same time, a lot of these organizations are struggling because of the economic impact of the outbreak."

Facebook's announcement is a much-needed cash infusion for local news businesses, which are having their business models annihilated by the virus crisis, at the same time readers need them more than ever, Axios' Sara Fischer writes.

  • $25 million will be given to local news organizations in the U.S. as grants.
  • The other $75 million is being funneled to news organizations in need globally through Facebook marketing, or ad space Facebook is purchasing to market itself from those outlets.
  • This is on top of $300 million that Facebook had committed earlier.

Campbell Brown, Facebook's V.P., Global News Partnerships, writes:

  • "Over time, we think this work can have the added benefit of fostering civic engagement, which research suggests is directly correlated with people’s reading of local news."

What's next: With Facebook experiencing a massive surge in traffic, Zuckerberg said the company is moving up products on its long-term road map that'll help people maintain their social infrastructure while they can't go outside — video and group chat improvements, and online events instead of physical events.

Go deeper: Facebook spending $100 million to help news outlets in coronavirus crisis

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Pastor Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tenn., held a drive-in service in the church parking lot yesterday.

5. Field hospital rises in Central Park
Photo: G.N. Miller/N.Y. Post

With hospitals filling up, Samaritan's Purse, a Christian global relief agency, yesterday set up a 68-bed "respiratory focused field hospital" on Central Park's East Meadow lawn, near Mount Sinai Hospital. (AFP)

6. 📊 Emerging issues in the time of virus
Graphic: Glover Park Group

The pandemic has already shifted American voters' issue priorities, according to the results of an online caucus the Glover Park Group provided to Axios' Sara Fischer.

  • Why it matters: Crises can force the nation to acknowledge bipartisan problems that had been neglected due to lack of urgency.

Findings from the conversations with 210 "news attentive and civically engaged" voters nationwide:

  • Worker protection and paid leave: Paid leave and worker pay topped the list of actions that the voters want to see businesses act on ease the crisis.
  • Broadband inequality: School closures and remote work across the country are showcasing inequities in access to high-speed internet, and how it can impact access to education and work during a crisis.
  • Education: Parents are worried about the long-term impact that the coronavirus will have on the achievement gap.
  • Mental health is becoming a bigger national concern as more Americans are forced to remain isolated away from loved ones and support systems.
  • Manufacturing: "The current environment makes some think about increasing our manufacturing presence and American-only supply chains.

Share this story. ... See the full deck.

Graphic: Glover Park Group
7. Exclusive: Civil rights leaders oppose swift move off natural gas

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Getty Images

Top civil-rights activists are opposing an abrupt move away from natural gas, putting them at odds with environmentalists and progressive Democrats who want to ban fracking, Axios' Amy Harder writes in her "Harder Line" column.

  • In recent interviews, Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and National Urban League President Marc Morial said energy costs are hitting people of color unfairly hard. These concerns, expressed before the coronavirus pandemic, are poised to expand as paychecks shrink across America.

Fracking, the controversial oil and gas extraction method, has unlocked vast reserves of natural gas across the country over the past decade. That’s providing a cheap and relatively cleaner fuel for electricity, heating and manufacturing.

  • Environmentalists and progressive Democrats, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, have increasingly opposed natural gas and are calling to ban fracking because of its role in heating up the planet.

Read, share the full column.

8. Cover du jour
Cover: Chris Ware for The New Yorker

The cover of The New Yorker's annual Health Issue, "Bedtime," is by Chris Ware, who tells the magazine's "Cover Story":

As a procrastination tactic, I sometimes ask my fifteen-year-old daughter what the comic strip or drawing I’m working on should be about ... So, while sketching the cover of this Health Issue, I asked her.
"Make sure it's about how most doctors have children and families of their own," she said.
9. Our new world, on fast forward
GIF courtesy The New York Times

Here's a GIF version of a special section in yesterday's N.Y. Times, "The Great Empty," capturing the array of vacated public spaces now dotting the globe.

10. 1 smile to go
Elmo and his parents, Louie and Mae. Photo: Sesame Workshop via AP

Elmo, Rooster and Cookie Monster, the "Sesame Street" Muppets, are featured in new animated PSAs reminding young viewers to take care while washing hands and sneezing, AP reports.

  • One of Elmo's signature songs, the toothbrush classic "Brushy Brush," has been updated to "Washy Wash."

Free on-demand episodes of "Sesame Street" are offered on PBS KIDS digital platforms, along with more than 110 free "Sesame Street" e-books on all major e-book platforms.

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