Need to Know: April 7, 2020


You might have heard: COVID-19 is spawning a global press-freedom crackdown (Columbia Journalism Review)

But did you know: Governments are using the coronavirus to hide information from reporters and citizens (Nieman Lab)

As the spread of coronavirus has accelerated in recent weeks, local, state and federal officials throughout the United States have locked down information from the public. Reporters have been banned from city council meetings where there were fewer than 10 people in attendance; some government agencies have decided that responding to records requests is not an essential need or function right now; and the FBI is no longer accepting requests for information by phone or email — instead, journalists must now send requests in the mail. The recent information closures are reminiscent of actions taken following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, writes David Cuillier.

+ Earlier: How public meetings are changing in the age of coronavirus — and what reporters should know (City Bureau)

+ Noted: The Center for Cooperative Media and the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists launch South Jersey Information Equity Project (Twitter, @stefaniemurray); NPR names Poynter’s Kelly McBride as 6th public editor (NPR); Racial Equity in Journalism Fund awards $2.3 million to news organizations led by and for communities of color (Borealis Philanthropy); TEGNA furloughs local TV news staffs, managers take temporary pay cut (Poynter)


Journalists, this is your moment. Please show you’re trustworthy. (Trusting News)

Gaining your audience’s trust has a lot to do with how you talk to them about four key things: your newsroom’s mission and priorities; how you strive for accurate, ethical reporting; the financial cost of your journalism; and other meaningful interactions, for example, in the comments section of your website, on social media, or face-to-face in your community. Joy Mayer and Lynn Walsh offer some sample language for each area that can be copied and pasted into messaging such as subscription appeals, editor’s notes, or your “About Us” page. 


Why you should avoid using ‘patient zero’ and ‘party zero’ in coronavirus news (Journalist’s Resource)

Using those terms is both irresponsible and inaccurate, says Helen Jenkins, an infectious disease epidemiologist. “No single person should be ‘blamed’ for starting an outbreak. Outbreaks occur for a number of reasons and there is never any practical use in the media to attributing the beginning of an outbreak to one person.” Instead of speculating on which individual “introduced” a pathogen to a population, she said, journalists should be focused on getting the right messages out to the public on what they could be doing to prevent further transmission.

+ The Association of Healthcare Journalists has created a 6-month, half-priced membership for non-health journalists thrust suddenly on the pandemic beat; it includes access to the association’s listserv, where questions are answered in real time by healthcare reporters and editors (AHCJ)


How The Financial Times is adapting its events business (Digiday)

The FT already had a robust live events business, hosting over 200 events globally from breakfast briefings to two-day conferences, which have up to 600 participants. As governments began to impose restrictions on public gatherings, however, the FT moved quickly to put together a series of online events, called Digital Dialogues, that cover how the global economy is withstanding blows dealt by the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing that getting people to pay for online events can be tough, the FT is experimenting with a tiered system where its “delegates” can attend for free but additional business-development features come at a price.


How food publishers are giving back to the restaurant industry (Digiday)

Gourmet food publications like Food & Wine and Eater are producing reporting aimed directly at restaurateurs, helping them understand how they can benefit from the coronavirus stimulus package, for example, or how to navigate local guidelines or talk to their landlords or insurance companies about delaying payment. Eater has also been giving over its Instagram platform to chefs and restaurateurs who lead cooking or drink-making classes, while promoting a charity or including fundraising links for their businesses. Thrillist is hosting virtual happy hours on Instagram, and allowing users to tip the bartenders or make a donation to the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation.

+ Earlier: Here are some other creative ways local news outlets are supporting small businesses in their communities (Twitter, @KevinLoker)


Many news organizations will cast aside historic taboos and apply for federal money. Will they need a whole new set of ethics? (Poynter)

Many publishers are preparing to take advantage of federal coronavirus relief packages, which brings them into unfamiliar ethics territory. Transparency and vocal commitment to journalism’s watchdog role will be critical in keeping ethical problems at bay, says Kelly McBride. “Does cashing the check mean you won’t scrutinize the largest federal disbursement of funds in the history of our nation? Of course not. But you have to say that out loud … Turns out, your audience trusts you more when you open up about your business and your ethics.”


Americans want to see what’s happening in hospitals now. But it’s hard for journalists to get inside. (Washington Post)

Journalists’ lack of access to hospitals makes them reliant on secondhand observations and amateur cellphone footage, in many cases shot clandestinely by healthcare workers. It also makes it difficult for them to judge whether those observations or visual documentation are representative of what is actually happening inside hospitals. Meanwhile, the vacuum of information is being filled by doubters and conspiracy theorists. “The lack of richly visual depictions of the disease’s impact may be a key reason some members of the public doubt its seriousness — and others have been inspired to push conspiracy theories denying the existence of a crisis altogether,” write Elahe Izadi and Sarah Ellison.

+ Fundraisers to help laid-off and furloughed journalists are springing up across the U.S. (Poynter)