Need to Know: March 19, 2020


You might have heard: Coronavirus may have killed the alt-weekly Sacramento News & Review (Twitter, @NiemanLab)

But did you know:One of the swiftest, cruelest casualties of COVID-19 in the U.S. is local alternative media’ (Twitter, @SceneSallard)

Across the country, local alt-weeklies are shutting down or laying off staff as a direct result of the coronavirus. Fully dependent on advertising and distribution in cafes and other local businesses, many of which have temporarily closed as local governments seek to contain the spread of the virus, alt-weeklies are among the first to feel the devastating economic consequences of the pandemic. In Detroit, the Metro Times has laid off 8 staff members. The Cleveland Scene has laid off 5 employees. Voice Media Group, which alt-weeklies in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Miami, and Denver, is cutting salaries by 25% and warns staff to brace for layoffs. In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Gazette has laid off staff and temporarily ceased print publication.

+ Noted: LION Publishers is partnering with the Google News Initiative and other local news advocates to launch Project Oasis, which will produce a guide to help entrepreneurs start local digital news businesses (Medium, LION Publishers); Through WhatsApp, Facebook is providing another $1 million in support to the International Fact-Checking Network to fight coronavirus misinformation (Poynter); The Brown Institute for Media Innovation is offering a “rapid” micro-grant to parties with the mission of informing the public about coronavirus (The Brown Institute for Media Innovation)


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Prioritizing solutions-oriented coverage of coronavirus (Medium, Solutions Journalism Network)

At a time when newsrooms are struggling to keep up with each new development in the coronavirus pandemic, stepping back to look at what’s working may seem impossible — or at least low on the list of priorities. But rigorous reporting on global responses aimed at slowing the coronavirus’s spread can be just as important as providing real-time updates, writes Linda Shaw. Shaw rounded up some of the best solutions stories so far around the pandemic, which may offer ideas for local newsrooms looking to increase the impact of their coronavirus coverage.

+ Related: Want more examples of solutions-focused coronavirus coverage? You can hop on this Friday call hosted by Lenfest’s News Book Club (Lenfest Institute)

+ At many news orgs, audience questions about coronavirus are going through the roof. Here’s how some are managing their responses — and how you can get free access to Hearken’s listening technology for four months (Twitter, @wearehearken)


How Le Monde designed ‘Tinder for News’ (Twipe)

Looking to get its reporting in front of a younger audience, French news publisher Le Monde designed an app that lets users swipe through stories one by one. They can save stories that catch their eye to a reading list, and pass on all the others. The functionality of the app is inspired by Tinder, the popular dating app, and the way the stories are designed — with a compelling graphic, headline and dek (and estimated reading time) is inspired by the Stories format originally created by Snapchat.


How journalists can fight stress from covering the coronavirus (Poynter)

You’ve probably heard it before, but if you’re a journalist covering coronavirus for your newsroom, it bears repeating: Take a chunk out of your day to unplug from the news. Go where updates can’t get you. That should include your bedroom at night. “You’re probably not sleeping enough,” write Al and Sidney Tompkins. So don’t forget to protect your sleep — and remember that this situation is not normal. Take small actions to remind yourself throughout the day of what normalcy is.


About half say they have seen at least some made-up news about the coronavirus (Pew Research Center)

Roughly half (51%) of all Americans say they are following coronavirus news very closely, with another 38% following it fairly closely, according to a new Pew survey. The majority (67%) thinks the media is at least somewhat exaggerating the risks of the virus — although 70% say the media is doing very or somewhat well in its reporting. Meanwhile, many Americans say they have been exposed to misinformation about the virus, and substantial portions express belief in claims that are in fact false — such as the claim that the virus was created in a lab.


How a blockbuster Washington Post story made ‘social distancing’ easy to understand (Poynter)

We’ve all seen it by now — the article by Post reporter Harry Stevens that uses simple graphics to explain the concept of “flattening the curve” and why it works. The article is possibly the most-read in the website’s history, even eclipsing the article about the Donald Trump “Access Hollywood” tape. The graphics illustrate the spread of a hypothetical virus via moving dots that bounce off each other and change color as they do, indicating transmission of the virus as well as recovery from it. Stevens created four scenarios — free-for-all, attempted quarantine, moderate distancing and extensive distancing — to show how each impacts the spread of “simulitis.” The article’s impact was such that it may have felt a bit like peaking too soon for Stevens. “Now every time I publish something my editors are going to wonder why Barack Obama didn’t tweet it,” he said.