AUGUST 19, 2020
The short answer is yes, as long as the story is newsworthy for other reasons. Read on for a deeper look at the way the pandemic has impacted news coverage over the last six months, including insights from journalists at The Wall Street Journal, CoStar and other media outlets.
In early March, American newsrooms big and small reassigned journalists, scrapped editorial plans and reallocated resources to cover the pandemic. The Coronavirus dominated headlines; there was little interest or bandwidth to cover anything else.
Now nearly six month later, we’re noticing an increased appetite for non-COVID news stories, so we did some research and asked a variety of media contacts to weigh in. Here’s what we learned:
Major local newspapers continue to play a critical role in keeping the public informed about the impact of the pandemic in their hometown. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reporters focused on mining data and covering the state’s response to the virus, with a new section dedicated to Coronavirus news. In addition to the pandemic, local media are focused on election news, which will get even more ink as November nears.
That being said, we’ve noticed beat reporters are pursuing their usual coverage. This story about a new mixed-use apartment complex by J.D. Capelouto, who covers Dekalb County for the AJC, doesn’t mention the pandemic once. Commercial Real Estate Editor for The Atlanta Business Chronicle Doug Sams also continues to report non-COVID news. Many of his stories cover the latest deals and happenings in CRE and only mention the pandemic if it’s truly relevant.
Broadcast stations are adding feel-good features to their line ups to balance the weight of the pandemic, elections and crime coverage. For instance, CBS 46 has regular uplifting segments called Positively Georgia and WSB-TV launched its “In This Together” campaign at the onset of the pandemic. Visually interesting stories that make people smile are appealing to this media category.
Trade publications are especially interested in non-COVID news as they serve content to targeted audiences who have been bombarded with coronavirus impact stories for months. A freelancer for ArchDigest told us she has been turning in too many stories about the virus and needs to shift back to other topics.
A reporter at CoStar said: “From March to June, our editors had a big appetite for anything related to COVID-19 and the pandemic. The stay-at-home orders' impact on businesses, and therefore on real estate, stories were in high demand. We also worked to find stories that deals were getting done, despite the coronavirus, and those stories were well received by readers…”
The same reporter noted that the tide has since shifted. As one concrete example, CoStar recently renamed its Coronavirus Update section of the newsletter TheDaily Roundup, which covers big national stories.
Of course, some stories are just not as relevant under these circumstances. A travel editor for a regional lifestyle magazine told us: “We're not covering hotels right now; instead, accommodations that allow social distancing like homes and cottages.”
National media has the deepest bench of reporters and is able to cover both COVID and non-COVID stories. A contact at The Wall Street Journal told us: “For us stories don't necessarily have to be covid-related (although to an extent everything is at least a little covid related these days). We're certainly interested in stories that aren’t about the pandemic as long as they are timely for other reasons.”
A freelancer for The New York Times said he’d welcome other ideas and was getting pretty burned out on writing the same nut graf for every story.
It’s important to note that national reporters are generally skeptical of overly positive and optimistic media pitches. A retail reporter at The Wall Street Journal tweeted: “[skeptical emoji face] When I get pitches telling me that commercial real estate is now safe for consumers with all the cleaning and health measures, by PR people who have left NYC or are still working from home.”
In summary, we once purposefully led with the virus in our press releases and pitches to appeal to media early on in the pandemic. Today, unless it is a key part of the story, the impact of COVID is often better expressed in a quote or a graf toward the end of the release or pitch, if at all. While the pandemic is still a large part of the media narrative, there is growing interest and bandwidth for non-COVID stories as long as they are newsworthy for other reasons.
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