March 16, 2020

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‘We’re heartened’

It’s easy for journalists to get discouraged about their profession.

News organizations across the country have been hit hard by layoffs, pay cuts and diminishing resources. Just as damaging has been the hateful and harmful rhetoric accusing honest and responsible journalists of producing “fake news” and being the “enemy of the people.”

Never in our time has the media been more underappreciated and overly attacked for simply doing what journalists have been doing forever — being watchdogs, holding the powerful accountable and, most of all, providing its audience with the valuable information they need.

And while the coronavirus is a story none of us wish we had to cover, it has proven something encouraging: Americans need — and more importantly, want — good journalism.

Major news websites — places such as CNN and Fox News — are seeing huge spikes in traffic numbers. Local news organizations are seeing renewed interest in their products.

“We’re … heartened to see how many people are coming to us to stay informed,” Seattle Times executive editor Michele Matassa Flores wrote in a column. “Readership of our website has been triple our normal volume — even 10 times the volume at key breaking-news moments. And despite the fact that we’ve made our coronavirus stories free as a public service, this coverage has drawn new subscribers at record levels.”

Seattle is one of the hot spots for the coronavirus story, but we’re seeing incredible local coverage from all over — places such as San Francisco, Buffalo, Boston, Dallas, Tampa Bay and everywhere in between. Newspapers there are producing local newsletters or podcasts and doing area-specific stories. Journalists are performing under very difficult circumstances — many are working remotely while trying to keep themselves and their families healthy. Journalists are doing their jobs, which often come with very long hours — but this story is pressing the boundaries of what they are used to.

On Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” San Francisco Chronicle editor-in-chief Audrey Cooper said her staff is working on little sleep, often starting early in the morning and finishing well after midnight, to give its readers the very latest information on a story that often changes by the minute.

In her column, The Seattle Times’ Flores wrote, “In my 35 years as a journalist, I can say I’ve never felt so keenly the importance of local journalism to our community. And in my 27 years at The Seattle Times, I’ve never seen the entire company rally behind our mission the way we are now.”

She wrote the paper is working at a “breakneck pace,” doing what it can to inform its audience, while keeping its journalists safe.

“While we don’t pretend to have all the answers — no one does — we’re doing our best,” Flores wrote.

A reliable source

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In times like these, ideally, government officials would focus on getting us the information we need. But over the weekend, Surgeon General Jerome Adams went a step further and said something that is the antithesis of journalism’s role as a watchdog for Americans.

Adams seemed to scold the media by saying, “No more bickering, no more partisanship, no more criticism or finger-pointing.”

Perhaps Adams’ heart was in the right place about coming together as a nation, but his plea also could be viewed as dangerous. As CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote in a special weekend “Reliable Sources” newsletter, “What Adams called ‘bickering’ and ‘criticism’ is what most of us call accountability.”

Stelter added, “Adams used the word ‘need,’ talking to the press corps. So I will too. He needs to spend his time educating the public about how to protect each other, not lecturing the press about what’s newsworthy.”

Speaking of Stelter

Stelter’s Sunday morning “Reliable Sources” show on CNN was good as it gets. Admittedly, I’m already a fan of the show, but Sunday’s was especially good in talking about the media’s coverage of the coronavirus story, and some of the places to find the best journalism (and to avoid the worst journalism).

Fox News is stepping up

Harris Faulkner, who will be a big part of Fox News’ ramped-up coronavirus coverage. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Fox News is stepping up its coronavirus coverage. Starting today, “Outnumbered Overtime” anchor Harris Faulkner will dedicate an hour each weekday, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern, to a show titled “Coronavirus Pandemic: Questions Answered.” Dr. Marc Siegel and Dr. Nicole Saphier will join Harris to offer medical news and analysis. Viewer questions will be taken via email, social media and Skype.

In addition, Fox News is going 24 hours with live broadcasts — in the past, overnight programming usually involved repeats of shows aired earlier that night. Starting tonight, Shannon Bream will anchor an extended version of “Fox News @ Night” from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern. That will be followed by chief breaking news correspondent Trace Gallagher hosting from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Eastern. is also beefing up its coronavirus coverage. Each weekday starting today, Fox News Digital will put a daily newsletter called “Fox News Today: The Coronavirus Crisis.” It will be sent out to subscribers around noon Eastern. And, Fox Nation, which is Fox News’ streaming service, will also provide extra coronavirus coverage.

It also should be pointed out that many on Fox News, including primetime host Tucker Carlson and the weekend shows, have covered the coronavirus crisis well — including questioning and criticizing the government’s response.

So what about Fox News?

Sean Hannity. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

This ramped up coverage from Fox News, as well as some of the more responsible coverage of late, is certainly a far cry from some of its earlier harmful dismissals of the crisis that we saw from such pundits as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and Trish Regan.

In fact, Regan is now on hiatus from Fox Business. The network said this is because of staffing changes to meet network coverage of the coronavirus. But it does not feel like a coincidence that this follows her bizarre rant last week that suggested all of this coronavirus business was a hoax stirred by rivals of President Donald Trump (Democrats and the “liberal media”) in order to damage the president. Regan’s angry commentary was irresponsible, but not nearly as much as what we’ve seen from primetime host Sean Hannity.

In recent weeks, Hannity criticized the “left” for suggesting we should cancel mass gatherings and practice physical distancing — something that now nearly everyone agrees are smart moves in this fight against coronavirus.

Because of that, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple writes, “Could we please have a hiatus for ‘Hannity,’ too?”

The shame of it for Fox News is that most of its network is doing really good and responsible work on the coronavirus story. But Hannity does so much to destroy the network’s credibility. Ultimately, that’s Fox News’ fault. They’ve made Hannity their signature star. He has the best time slot, he has the biggest voice, he is the face of the network.

Wemple is right. Fox News should bench Hannity for a while. Not only would it be good for the American public, it might be good for Fox News, too.

Information overload?

Is there something to the fear about getting too much information about coronavirus? Might constantly watching the news and reading websites and poring over newspapers cause anxiety that outweighs the information we need?

We’ve seen the negative impact, which includes a rush on supermarkets to empty the shelves of toilet paper — one of the strangest reactions to this pandemic.

Certainly, we all can understand if coronavirus fatigue sets in. And, admittedly, I spent a good chunk of Saturday binge-watching ESPN’s underrated “Basketball: A Love Story” documentary series.

But it does remain important to keep tabs on the latest information, simply because each day brings something new. This pandemic is not going to last forever. Eventually our lives will return to normal. But, for now, checking in a few times a day is the least we can do to keep ourselves and those around us safe.

What’s encouraging is news organizations are handling this responsibly — not feeding panic, but providing truly useful information. And, while it’s easy to go deep into the weeds with coronavirus stories, it’s important for the media and news consumers to keep repeating the most critical information, such as washing hands, physical distancing, self-quarantine, coughing into elbows and other common-sense behaviors to combat this virus.

The Sunday shows

It was a good weekend for the Sunday morning news shows. They had all the right guests and all the moderators asked the right questions. It was a (mostly) nonpartisan Sunday morning with punditry and accusations giving way to facts.

Happy 100th

Minneapolis Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman in 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

A special birthday wish to longtime — and I do mean longtime — Minneapolis Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman, who turned 100 on Sunday. Incredibly, Hartman still writes, including this column celebrating his 100th birthday. The Star Tribune wrote several pieces commemorating Hartman’s birthday.

Hartman sold newspapers on a street corner when he was 9 years old. He wrote his first column a week after World War II ended in 1945. Today, he writes 3-4 columns a week.

“I have followed the advice that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” Hartman wrote in his Sunday column. “Even at 100 I can say I still love what I do.”

I worked in the sports department at the Star Tribune for three years and that makes me a “close personal friend” of Sid. For those who know him, you know what that phrase means: Everyone Sid ever met is a “close personal friend.”

Media tidbits

  • ESPN, scrambling to fill air time with no sports to show, appears to be moving up the date to air “The Last Dance,” its much anticipated 10-part documentary series about Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls. The series was supposed to premiere June 2, but ESPN is now running ads to say it’s “coming soon.”
  • Deadspin, with a new set of writers, is up and running again. It wouldn’t be fair to judge so soon, but it will be interesting to see how a sports site — and a “new” one at that — can be relevant when there are no sports and there are many predisposed to hate it because they love the old Deadspin.
  • NBC and CBS both cut into Sunday programming to show the White House news conference. They both then switched away not long after Trump’s comments ended even though many others, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, continued. Vice President Mike Pence also took media questions after the networks went back to programming. What’s odd is that NBC went back to airing a golf tournament from a year ago and CBS went back to a college basketball game from two years ago.

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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…
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