April 30, 2020

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ABC’s “World News Tonight” has become the No. 1 show in America. Fox News just had its best month ever in primetime. “Morning Joe” just had its best ratings ever. The Sunday morning shows are attracting more viewers than they have in years. Local TV news ratings are up. Traffic for many newspapers and digital outlets has gone up considerably. Even subscriptions for news online have risen.

People are craving news, most of which has something to do with the coronavirus. But …

They need a break from it, too.

The latest poll from Pew Research Center shows that 71% of Americans say they need to take breaks from news about the coronavirus, and 43% say the news leaves them feeling worse emotionally.

The odd takeaway: Audiences can’t get enough coronavirus news until, well, it becomes too much. Then they can’t take it anymore. At least for a while.

These numbers are not surprising. The stress of the coronavirus — the restlessness felt from staying indoors, the fear of getting sick, the grief of losing a loved one, the anxiety about the economy and jobs — continues to take a heavy toll.

Audiences want to know as much information as they can: the latest number of cases and deaths, projections for the immediate future, reports on when life might return to normal (or whatever the new normal is going to look like).

But there does come a point — even for those of us who report on these matters — when you have to take a break to binge-watch a show on Netflix or read a book or crank up music videos on YouTube or go for a walk or do anything besides look at more news. One Poynter Report reader even told me she has trouble watching her favorite late-night talk shows because they talk about coronavirus news or show clips from President Donald Trump’s press conferences.

But this is where the news outlets cannot let it up. The Pew numbers should not be the media’s cue to cut back on coronavirus coverage. The press’ job is to keep accurate information coming — as much of it as it can and as fast as it can.

If audiences want to step away from time to time for their own sanity, they should. But the media needs to keep being there. All the time.

The return of podcasts

While most media has had a jump in interest with the coronavirus, one area has not: podcasts. With people forced to stay inside, podcast downloads have dropped over the past couple of months. That actually makes sense when you consider a lot of people listen to podcasts while commuting to work. For many these days, the commute to work is from the bedroom to the dining room table — hardly enough time to listen to a podcast.

Finally, however, some slightly good news for podcasts. In his latest Hot Pod newsletter, Nieman Lab’s Nicholas Quah points out that from April 20-26, podcast downloads went up slightly (4%) from the week before. So did audience numbers, by 2%. Pretty modest increases, but that’s the first time those numbers have gone up since the first week of March.

Even still, Quah says podcast publishers are trying to sort out how to approach new podcasts with the industry in flux because of the uncertainty that comes with the coronavirus. Quah writes that industry sources have told him that now is still a good time to launch coronavirus-related podcasts, although some wonder if the field is becoming too saturated.

Quah wrote, “When it comes to non-coronavirus podcasts, the outlook is a mixed bag. It’s generally understood that podcasting can serve a few vital roles during this moment; in addition to offering information and analysis, they can give audiences comfort, community, escapism, or just distraction. The big question is how much appetite there is among listeners to try something new, as opposed to sticking with the things they already have.”

By the way, if you enjoy podcasts, Quah’s “Hot Pod” is a must-read, always chock-full of good information.

Airing Trump or exposing him?

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Once you get past a little meandering at the start, New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi has some interesting thoughts about whether President Trump’s White House coronavirus press conferences should be shown in their entirety. Some have made the argument that Trump’s presses should not be aired live from start to finish because Trump makes too many false claims or dangerous and irresponsible statements. But Nuzzi writes. “Can the press protect the American people from the president? Should we? No.”

Back on March 24, I made the same argument when I wrote, “When it comes to the president and his actions, it’s necessary that the media does not shield the American people and, in effect, protect Trump from the public.”

Those opposed to Trump seem most bothered that his press conferences are aired in their entirety.

Nuzzi writes, “What a lot of Trump critics miss is that the biggest threat to his presidency isn’t the pandemic and the collapse of the global economy. It’s Trump. The more we see him — rambling, ranting, casually spitballing about bleach and sunlight — the clearer that becomes. But that’s not the media’s problem, and taking the spotlight off of him as he displays the full extent of his inadequacies would only serve to help him and to make the public less informed about what the federal government is doing — or not doing.”

One more note about Trump’s press conferences

As the debate about airing Trump’s White House press conferences continues, it should be noted that the three major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC — have, generally, not been showing the press conferences. And if the press conferences coincide with their nightly national news broadcasts, the networks almost always stay with their news.

Based on that Pew Research Center poll, that’s probably a smart idea. Of those polled, 56% said the national news is their major source of information, as opposed to 31% who said the White House press conferences are their major source.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey reports that Trump was presented with internal polling by advisors that show he is trailing Joe Biden in several key states. The advisors’ point in showing Trump those polls, Dawsey wrote, is to “curtail Trump’s freewheeling daily briefings.”

That reporting matches up with other reporting that has said Trump’s daily briefings have hurt his approval ratings. They’re having the opposite impact that Trump might have intended when he started turning the daily news conferences into substitutes for his political rallies.

Fox News’ virtual town-hall with POTUS

Fox News will host a virtual town hall Sunday night from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern with President Trump. It will be co-moderated by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, who will both be at the Lincoln Memorial. Fox News said Trump will answer viewer-submitted questions from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m. The main topic is expected to be about reopening the country. The title of the town hall is “America Together: Returning to Work.”

Let’s hope this Fox News town hall goes better than the one last month with Trump moderated by Bill Hemmer. That one, as I wrote at the time, was a mess, as Hemmer tossed up one softball after another to Trump. Hemmer didn’t push back or challenge the president on much of anything, and it turned into a two-hour Trump infomercial.

State of testing

(Courtesy: CBS News)

“CBS This Morning” launched a new regular feature Wednesday called “State of Testing,” which looks at the resources and accessibility of coronavirus testing. The series also will look at how states are responding to testing needs, whether they are developing testing plans and how testing plays into the decisions to reopen.

In a statement, “CBS This Morning” executive producer Diana Miller said, “With so much emphasis on diagnostic testing and its role in reopening the country, we wanted to investigate the access and availability on a state-by-state level. Sometimes, when looking at the big picture you can miss the real impact and situation on the ground so we felt it was important to hear directly from local officials, residents and medical professionals to gain a better understanding of what they are facing.”

Wednesday’s first report looked at Texas. Today’s feature will be on Pennsylvania, and Friday will look at Michigan.

Don’t take my picture

A common story these days on news and social media is people disobeying social distancing guidelines. Usually we see a photo of a bunch of people crowded on a beach or in a park or on a sidewalk. But, Columbia Journalism Review’s Jon Allsop writes, there’s no wisdom in crowd photos. Yes, he writes, there are moments when people are irresponsible.

“All too often, however, outraged reactions to crowd photos are reflexive and misplaced,” Allsop writes. “Taken together, they risk creating a narrative of widespread disobedience that is just wrong, or at least devoid of important social context.”

Sometimes the photos are misleading, with camera angles distorting how close people are to one another. Meanwhile, other photos might hint that something wrong is happening, when it’s actually something entirely different and not irresponsible at all.

Allsop writes, “Sometimes, such images do highlight legitimate problems. Often, however, they’re lazy clickbait. At worst, they’re dangerous.”

Read Allsop’s whole piece, which makes many good points.

Media tidbits

  • Wow: This story from Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman shows the power of Jared Kushner, Vice President Mike Pence’s fear of Donald Trump, Trump’s paranoid hatred of the media, a dire warning to Trump from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in a face-to-face meeting and what was going on inside the White House when the coronavirus crisis exploded.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Bob Ford — a big name in sportswriting circles — is leaving the Inquirer after 32 years. In a tweet, he said it was “My choice, my timing.” He said he’s ready to do other things, adding “assuming there are some” during this time of coronavirus.
  • The Guardian’s Jim Waterson is reporting that the BBC is facing another round of cuts as it prepares for what it believes will be a $155 million drop in income. Waterson wrote, “The outgoing director general, Tony Hall, told staff on Wednesday he is deferring negotiations over pay rises until later in the year, putting a freeze on all but the most essential recruitment and reviewing major capital projects. This alone will not be enough to make up the shortfall, meaning there are likely to be cuts to some programs.”
  • Sean Hannity sent a letter to The New York Times asking for an apology and retraction over several columns that criticized Hannity. The Times, pretty much, gave a one-word response: no. But about Hannity going after the Times? Did President Trump have anything to do with that? The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng, Maxwell Tani and Lachlan Cartwright check it out.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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