Mar 12, 2020 - Economy & Business

How newsrooms are preparing for coronavirus while also covering it

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Newsrooms are creating contingency plans to make sure that they can adequately inform the public about the novel coronavirus while keeping their own employees safe.

Why it matters: Some news products, including newspapers, magazines, video and events, require in-person manpower to produce. With work-from-home policies in place, products and editorial procedures will need to change.

Driving the news: Talking Points Memo has closed its office. Conde Nast implemented mandatory work-from-home policies for the next few weeks. CBS News New York has instructed employees to work from home for two days.

  • Hearst, Meredith Corp., Penske Media Corporation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Refinery29, New York Magazine, Politico, Axios, WarnerMedia and others are encouraging employees to work from home.
  • More work-from-home policies are expected to be instated in the coming days.
  • Many newsrooms are located big cities, where the outbreak risk is larger.
  • Some newsrooms have asked staff that come in contact with those infected to self-quarantine.

How it works: Media companies are going all-in on coronavirus coverage, launching dozens of pop-up podcasts, newsletters and special reports. But much of that coverage has shifted to accommodate journalists working from home.

Video: Quartz is shifting its video production to feature more individualized explainers, so as to limit peer-to-peer contact when necessary, according to a spokesperson.

  • A Buzzfeed spokesperson says video projects are moving forward, with extreme caution and thermometers available on all production sets.
  • "With staff and interview subjects across the United States, we are well-versed in remote interviews and virtual meetings," says a spokesperson for NowThis News, which produces mostly video news. "[S]o we don’t anticipate any meaningful impact to our business or operations as we continue to inform our audiences of the critical news of the day."

Podcasts: A source familiar with Vox Media's contingency plans say that the company is encouraging podcasters to try to record interviews remotely whenever necessary.

Events: While some companies are cancelling smaller events, many are are shifting big conferences and events online to virtual forums. Girlboss, a media company geared toward female millennials, is moving its annual spring "Girlboss Rally," a typically ticketed in-person experience, completely online.

Print: The New York Times Magazine is working through a contingency plan for how it will "paper proof" the magazine, per AdWeek. Typically, paper-proofing happens in person. The Times is using this week's issue as a rehearsal for eventually planning to produce the magazine with most people working remotely.

  • Because of the virus, the Atlantic made its "most vital coronavirus coverage available" widely, regardless of subscription status, according to a spokesperson for the publication.

Television: Talk shows with live audiences are moving toward taping without attendees. According to the New York Post, ABC is making all of its shows audience-free, including The View and Good Morning America.

  • In a note to staff on Wednesday, CBS News President Susan Zirinsky says that broadcast and streaming shows have "determined the best alternative location to originate,” programming.

Yes, but: With a duty to report the news, some functions just can't be shifted online. In those cases, newsrooms are using other containment practices, like social distancing.

  • "A relatively small segment of our staff cannot do its work without access to necessary equipment and facilities that are only available in our office," says a Washington Post spokesperson.
  • "Those individuals will come into the newsroom but observe appropriate practices of social distancing. With fewer people in the office, we can more easily spread people out."

The big picture: There are major revenue implications for news companies moving offline products to the online world.

  • Most newsrooms rely on event sponsorships, and not all brands will shift their dollars to sponsor virtual events, where engagement is by nature less intimate.
  • Sponsored video series that require travel may be cancelled or postponed.
  • Advertisers may be impacted if some physical products, like newspapers, reduce distribution or need to temporarily halt printing.

What's next: Newsrooms are taking pride in ensuring that they can serve the public with quality information about the virus while also being cautious.

  • "We've faced challenges and crisis before over the 168 year history of The Times from war to natural disaster to disease," emailed a New York Times spokesperson. "Our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak is a daily demonstration of our unwavering commitment to keeping the public informed."

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Why it matters: Local news was already facing dire strains in the United States. The coronavirus and a pending recession could push the industry into near collapse at a time when people need access to local news and information more than ever before.

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