The media is leaning on its experts to cover the coronavirus, and it’s working » ‘Nightline’ is going all-in on the coronavirus

Your Tuesday Poynter Report

March 10, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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Let’s recognize some responsible reporting

Coronavirus is not just one story. It’s many stories.

It’s a health story. It’s a political story. And it’s a business story.

The business angle of coronavirus was at the forefront Monday. We woke up to the news that the Dow Jones industrial average plummeted 1,800 points at the open. By day’s end, it was the worst day on Wall Street since 2008.

And the media was all over it — responsibly.

“On days like these, you try to be the objective voice of reason — meaning you don’t buy into the panic and hysteria and report the facts as you hear them,” Fox Business Network’s Susan Li told me. “Yes, it’s a big number — a 2000-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial. But is it the end of the financial world? No.”

Still, it was a big deal, so big that NBC broke in at 9:30 a.m. Eastern with a special report anchored by Savannah Guthrie featuring CNBC “Squawk Box” anchor Becky Quick at the New York Stock Exchange and NBC White House correspondent Geoff Bennett from Washington.

“President Trump has spent the better part of the last three years really personalizing the stock market and the overall economy, making the case that one of the reasons for the stock market’s success until this point was because of his stewardship as president,” Bennett said. “There is a reason why U.S. presidents don’t really boast about the stock market because if you own the highs, politically you also own the lows.”

NBC broke in again later, at 4 p.m. Eastern, with a five-minute special report anchored by Lester Holt featuring CNBC “Power Lunch” anchor Tyler Mathisen.

“This is going to be one for the record books,” Mathisen said. “It is certainly a sign that the global economy is weakening.”

Two things quickly come to mind when watching how the media covered Monday’s business aspect of coronavirus. One, most of the media is taking it seriously but not overdramatizing. Two, and most important, the media is leaning heavily on its authorities in each area of this story, people such as Li, Quick and Mathisen. And that’s most notable for news consumers. 

Don’t listen to political reporters talking about the medical aspects of this story. Don’t listen to medical experts when it comes to the business ramifications.

Turn to people who know what they are talking about.

So what happens now? Unfortunately, we are not sure.

Writing for The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey notes that the coronavirus has morphed into an economic crisis and that if this turns into a coronavirus recession, it will be “unusually difficult to fight.” That’s mostly because of the uncertainty of the virus — how many have it, how many will get it, how long it will last?

More from Susan Li

Apple CEO Tim Cook. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Li interviewed Apple CEO Tim Cook recently as coronavirus was just starting to become a major story, and she told me she was encouraged by what Cook told her.

My biggest takeaway from the interview was that China was improving and recovering from the coronavirus,” Li said. “That was encouraging to me because Apple is arguably the most successful U.S. company to ever penetrate the Chinese market and still assemble more than 50% of their iPhones in the country. Apple probably has more insight on China than any other American company.

“Another factor I took away from my interview is the great responsibility Apple and Cook shoulder as the largest American company with incredible influence over how we live our daily lives and it’s part in crafting the future,” Li added. “Giving back to the community and getting the U.S. workforce ready for the changing technological landscape seemed important to Cook and Apple.”

Coronavirus and the media business

So what might the coronavirus end up meaning for the business aspect of news organizations? News organizations are often the first to feel the impacts of a downward economy because businesses, both national and local, tend to cut back on advertising in preparation for possible future financial woes.

News & Tech reports that The New York Times is anticipating a 10% drop in digital ad sales. In a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Times CEO Mark Thompson said the Times skews more toward subscriptions than digital ad sales, but added, “We are seeing a slowdown in international and domestic advertising bookings, which we associate with uncertainty and anxiety about the virus.”

Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media business analyst, has more this morning about how the knock to advertisements and events might hurt the news industry. 

‘Nightline’ returns to its roots

(ABC News)

ABC’s “Nightline” began in March 1980 as a show that reported strictly on one topic: Americans held hostage in Iran. Eventually, it morphed into covering other topics. But, for now, “Nightline” is going back to a single-topic news show, covering the coronavirus.

“In times of global crisis, we as journalists have a public service to give our viewers the essential information they need to stay informed and help them make any decisions for their own and their family’s well-being,” said Steven Baker, executive producer of “Nightline.” “This type of in-depth daily coverage is in the show’s DNA.”

No comment after commenting

Here’s the kind of thing that politicians often do that creates unnecessary ill will with the media and harms the public. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar spent part of Monday morning appearing on Fox News and Fox Business Network talking about the coronavirus. When he was greeted later outside his office by reporters who had waited nearly an hour, Azar made a brief statement saying protecting the American people from the virus is a priority. Then he refused to answer questions.

One reporter yelled out, “Wait, you took time to talk to Fox News, you can’t answer questions?”

This isn’t a complaint about the Trump administration vs. the mainstream media. This is about getting information to the public. That requires talking to more than just Fox News. 

CBS’s Paula Reid tweeted the exchange.

Coronavirus and Trump

Several high-profile pieces on Monday took aim at President Donald Trump and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

In the New Yorker, editor David Remnick wrote, “Physicians and public-health officials told me, as they have told many other journalists, that they are dispirited by the President’s public pronouncements, saying that he has added to the danger of the crisis by minimizing its scale and the need for rigorous precautions. Has there ever been a less serious President?”

Meanwhile, in Vanity Fair, Gabriel Sherman reported a stunning claim: that  Trump told aides he’s afraid journalists will try to purposefully contract coronavirus to give it to him on Air Force One. A source told Sherman, “He’s definitely melting down over this.”

Sherman writes, “Trump’s efforts to take control of the story himself have so far failed. A source said Trump was pleased with ratings for the Fox News town hall last Thursday, but he was furious with how he looked on television. ‘Trump said afterwards that the lighting was bad,’ a source briefed on the conversation said.”

Sherman wrote that Trump said, “We need Bill Shine back in here. Bill would never allow this.” 

Later in the day, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham demanded a retraction, tweeting: “This is 100% fake news. @gabrielsherman did not reach out to me. False & sensational writing on this topic is irresponsible. POTUS has spent plenty of time w the press pool – simply ask ur colleagues. Nothing about your little college essay is funny or true & I want a retraction.”

Brian Klaas, a contributor for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, had the most damning headline of all: “The Coronavirus is Trump’s Chernobyl.”

And, in The New York Times, Peter Baker wrote an opinion piece titled, “For Trump, Coronavirus Proves to Be an Enemy He Can’t Tweet Away.”

But the president does continue to tweet away. On Monday, Trump lashed out again at the media, tweeting: “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, ‘The risk is low to the average American.’”

What’s in a name?

CNN took the step Monday of calling the coronavirus a “pandemic.” In a story for CNN.com, the network’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote, “It is not a decision we take lightly. While we know it sounds alarming, it should not cause panic.”

So why is CNN calling it a pandemic when neither the World Health Organization nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has?

Gupta said that there’s no universally defined standard for a pandemic, but there are three general criteria: a virus that causes illness or death, sustained person-to-person transmission of the virus, and evidence of a spread throughout the world.

“I take this shift in language very seriously, and I spent the last several days speaking to public health leaders, epidemiologists and clinicians about the terminology,” Gupta said. “While some were understandably conservative, everyone agreed that we are now in a pandemic.”

Booking Booker as a guest

Cory Booker, appearing on Monday’s “CBS This Morning.” (CBS News.)

Good get by “CBS This Morning” Monday to host Cory Booker, the former Democratic presidential hopeful, who is endorsing Joe Biden for president. He joins Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg as former Democratic candidates to endorse Biden.

“It’s time for us to beat Donald Trump and it became very clear to me that Joe Biden is the right person to do that,” Booker said.

And why Biden instead of Bernie Sanders?

“Bernie’s my friend. I have a lot of respect for him,” Booker said. “I just want us to get beyond pointing fingers at each other, and trying to tear each other down. We can’t tolerate that right now. The threat in the White House.”

Meanwhile, Buttigieg appeared on both the “Today” show and “Morning Joe” to endorse Biden.

“There’s a fundamental decency,” Buttigieg said on “Morning Joe.” “There’s this rhyme between what I believe my campaign was about and what he is practicing.”

And what does Biden say?

Biden addressed his most recent endorsements from Harris, Buttigieg and Booker and whether they could lead to a running mate during an interview with Monday’s “NBC Nightly News.”

They’re all capable of being president and not just those but Amy Klobuchar,” Biden said. “There’s a whole range of people who have endorsed and all I can tell you is it would be presumptuous for me to decide who is going to be vice president. I’m not even the nominee yet.”

Cuts in Cleveland

More bad news in the newspaper world. Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Tim Warsinskey announced Monday that the paper will cut 22 newsroom employees on March 23. Warsinskey, who took over as editor just last week, wrote “The reason is strictly financial. The industry revenue model has changed and print newspapers have struggled to overcome deep losses in subscriptions and advertising.”

Warsinskey pointed to a steady decline in print advertising revenue over the past 10 years. He said that after the cuts The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com will have 77 journalists based in Northeast Ohio, Akron, Columbus and Washington, D.C. But, he added, “this does not lessen the pain we feel today in my newsroom. … I am empathetic, but do not pretend to fully realize their anguish.”

The Plain Dealer News Guild responded on Twitter, saying in part, that there will be only 14 Guild members left, down from 300 a decade ago.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

Correction: Susan Li interviewed Apple CEO Tim Cook on Feb. 27. An earlier version of this story published another date.

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