Need to Know: March 20, 2020


You might have heard: Page views on coronavirus content were 15 times higher than on 2020 U.S. election content the week of March 6-12, according to (Axios)

But did you know: Coronavirus traffic to news sites spiked on March 12 and hasn’t let up since (Nieman Lab)

March 12 was the day President Trump made his Oval Office address on the pandemic, the NBA suspended its season and Tom Hanks announced he had contracted coronavirus — all events occurring within about an hour. According to the news analytics platform, page views on March 12 spiked by 44% compared to the previous week. “Compared to the baseline of ‘relatively normal’ content and news habits in Jan./Feb. 2020, we’re at a significant multiple — unlike pretty much anything has seen before, especially for how long the effect has lasted,” said Andrew Montalenti,’s co-founder and chief product officer.’s data also shows that the three most popular topics for coronavirus coverage are about social distancing, analyses and explainers on topics like “flattening the curve,” and local and international travel restrictions.

+ Noted: The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting announces grant funding for innovative news collaboration projects around coronavirus (Pulitzer Center); AAJA releases statement denouncing anti-Asian racism during coronavirus outbreak (AAJA); RCFP releases resource for journalists struggling to access government information concerning the outbreak (RCFP)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

The power of rumors in a fast-moving crisis, grants to fight coronavirus misinformation, and 2020 is “the year of deceptively edited campaign ads.” Factually is a weekly newsletter produced by API and the Poynter Institute that covers fact-checking and misinformation.


Don’t underestimate the power of memes to amplify information (Twitter, @auciello)

“Pro tip for reporters: To amplify critically important info, informative memes work!” This tip from Justin Auciello of Jersey Shore Hurricane News is a great way to adapt key points of your coronavirus coverage into simple, shareable, graphic form. Keep the message short, public safety-oriented, and eye-catching — and don’t forget to link to your full reporting in the caption.

+ Earlier: Informative memes are also a great way to fight coronavirus misinformation online. Spanish news site Maldito Bulo made great use of memes to help their fact-checks keep up with online rumors during the Spanish elections. (Poynter)

+ The five questions reporters need to ask hospitals and local officials about coronavirus (ProPublica)


Balancing accountability journalism with community-focused reporting (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)

Animal Político, a news site based in Mexico City, is “keeping a diary” of the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic by focusing much of its coverage around those most affected by closures — small business owners and their employees. It has also launched a microsite for its coronavirus coverage, where director Daniel Moreno expects to be checking on numbers released by local officials around case loads. “Today, even out of care for our journalists, I cannot ask them to chase down the number of sick to check whether the figures are correct,” Moreno says. “But there will be time to review what was done, if it was done on time, if it was done well and if they informed us how it should be done.”


Transphobia Project uses data visualization to zoom in on outlets that spread biased transgender content (

The project examines articles covering transgender issues for certain words and phrases that indicate bias. It assigns them a “t-index” that works as a bias score — the higher the t-index, the more biased the content, the author or the platform is. The data is mapped onto an interactive chart then allows users to see connections between publications and journalists who create this content.


How responsible are we for the feelings that our stories inspire? (Columbia Journalism Review)

Knowing that coronavirus coverage induces stress and anxiety in news consumers, how should journalists adapt their tone? Do we want to scare readers to make them take the pandemic seriously, in the hopes that this will help quell the outbreak? Or do we want our reporting to help maintain a sense of calm? Research shows that the latter may ultimately be more effective: Out of survival instincts, our brains prioritize sensational news — but when bad news is everywhere, our ability to process it goes down. “If you encounter a tiger, you’re not going to stop and figure out how many stripes it has,” says communications researcher Narine Yegiyan.


During coronavirus pandemic, how newsrooms can serve as the new ‘digital public square’ (Twitter, @azirulnick)

The surge of traffic many publishers are seeing on their sites represents a prime opportunity to engage readers in ways beyond delivering information. Many local news sites are finding creative ways to serve as community hubs that connect residents who need help with those who can offer it. offers a great example of this.


+ How to prevent loneliness while you’re social distancing (Washington Post)

+ How Emily Atkin, creator of the newsletter HEATED, channeled her rage and despair into climate journalism that makes an impact (Columbia Journalism Review)