This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here.
“Thanks again for all your hard work and dedication,” Michele Matassa Flores, executive editor of The Seattle Times, emailed staff on Tuesday. ”It’s truly remarkable. I’m writing now to let you know we really need you to work from home unless it’s absolutely necessary for you to come into the office. This is our company policy, made with the goal of keeping you healthy and also helping assure we don’t contribute to community-wide transmission of the coronavirus Over the next couple of days, newsroom leaders will determine a very small group of people we feel should be here to help coordinate our coverage and production … We expect for now that this policy will be in effect until March 23, but that could easily change as this epidemic morphs …”
In her email, Matassa Flores listed a number of tools in place to make working remotely easier. And in talking with managing editor Ray Rivera and deputy managing editor Lynn Jacobson, I learned that the newsroom has been taking steps for weeks to get here.
Is your newsroom ready for the coronavirus?
I wrote yesterday about how newsrooms in four cities are covering this story. Each also told me about logistics they’re working through. Some of them are specific to those newsrooms and cities.
But many of them can be applied anywhere.
Here are some steps your newsroom needs to take to get ready to cover the coronavirus. One note: Several people have asked me if Poynter has compiled tips to keep journalists safe while covering this story. We don’t have that yet, but at the very least the basic guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention apply, and it’s probably smart to understand how the CDC is instructing first responders to prepare.
Figure out how everyone will work remotely before you need it.
A lot of newsrooms that are digital or have worked to become so are ready for this.
In Seattle, the Times:
Surveyed staff members’ remote capabilities
Created a punch list of people who needed computers, software or training
Completed that training and got people that equipment
There are lots of resources for working remotely, but it’s a different dynamic if your team never has. Rebekah Monson, co-founder of WhereBy.Us, shared five tips for managing newly remote teams. LION Publishers’ executive director Chris Krewson also shared tips from member newsrooms.
Big events and breaking news always take more people than you might assume. At The Philadelphia Inquirer, Charlotte Sutton, assistant managing editor for business, health/science and built environment, is now applying that lesson, which she first learned covering hurricanes in Florida.
Also, get someone who is good at rewrites, she said, and can filter all the feeds coming in into a liveblog. Make that their job. (In San Francisco, that liveblog is the Chronicle’s most-read story of the year so far.)
In Seattle, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, staffers noted this is a story that touches every beat.
So use every beat.
“This is a situation affecting every facet of life so nearly every team in the newsroom — including Metro, health and science, politics, business, foreign and national, travel, audience engagement and the digital newsdesk — are tackling the issue from various angles,” said Los Angeles Times reporter Colleen Shalby.
The story of what’s happening with the coronavirus is fluid. So at the Los Angeles Times, the coverage plan has been, too, Shalby said.
“My colleagues and I are calling into the weekly CDC telebriefings, watching pressers and constantly contacting local public health departments for updates to provide people with information, but we also want to ensure that we aren’t stirring panic. We’ve made it a priority to load stories with context in an effort to educate people beyond incremental updates, and with each day, we continue to discuss how or if we should shift our plans.”
Listen to your community
Audience engagement editor Mohammed Kloub said they’ve gotten several questions already and are working through them. The team is also trying to answer specific questions with relevant information it already has.
It’s a way to invite readers into the process, Kloub said.
“It feels good to be publishing things that are helpful to people in a time of uncertainty.”
Also, check out this week’s Trusting News’ Trust Tips on making the purpose of your work clear.
Figure out the stories only you can tell
The Crosscut newsroom isn’t staffed up on weekends, and that’s when the story of the first coronavirus case in the U.S. broke. It was, of course, also a local story.
The newsroom doesn’t often cover breaking news, said staff reporter David Kroman. But coronavirus in Seattle was a big enough story that the newsroom got on it fast, and they did so by looking for angles that fit the audiences they serve.
Those have included what the outbreak means for underserved communities, including the homeless population and people who work in the gig economy.
“Find stories that you’re equipped to do and know how to do,” Kroman said.
And, if you can, figure that out before you have to.
While you’re here:
Want ideas from Poynter’s Al Tompkins on what to cover with the coronavirus? Sign up for our daily briefing, Covering COVID-19.
Looking for summer internship work? Check out LION’s list of opportunities in independent online newsrooms.
This is a good read on why family ownership might save local newsrooms.
Sign up for Hearken’s COVID-19 Response webinar.
Find your next employee or a new job on Poynter’s Media Jobs Connection.
That’s it for me! See you next week, approximately 1,000 handwashings from now.