The public weighs in on the media’s job covering the coronavirus

Your Thursday Poynter Report

April 9, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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How is the media doing covering the coronavirus?

As someone who pores over national and local media coverage from morning coffee to midnight snack, I can honestly say that I have never seen the breadth, depth and acumen of media coverage that I’ve witnessed over the past several weeks.

From the front lines of hospitals and nursing homes to the White House briefing room to Wall Street to far away locales such as Italy to hometown restaurants, shops and bars, the media has been everywhere. Whether it’s network TV; national newspapers such as The New York Times and Washington Post; NPR; digital news outlets such as The Atlantic or Politico; or local TV, newspapers and radio, the brilliant work being churned out by the minute has been incredible to witness.

Making it even more amazing is that many of these outlets are cutting back on resources, including staff, and virtually everyone is doing this work remotely. Reporters can’t do what they normally do, which is go into homes and offices to get insightful interviews. We’ve grown used to watching television broadcasts coming from living rooms with walls of books in the background. And yet the level of work not only hasn’t dropped, it has jumped up several notches.

But that’s what I think. What does the public think? What do media consumers — from those who devour as much as they can to those who give it a passing glance while carrying on with their own busy stay-at-home lives and everyone in between — believe?

It’s a mixed bag, often depending on political persuasion and where folks get their news. But overall and in general? More than half of U.S. adults believe the media is doing a good job covering the story of the coronavirus.

Pew Research Center’s latest survey shows that 54% believe the media is doing well — either “excellent” or “good” — while 46% believe the media is doing “fair” to “poor.”

Those getting their news primarily from TV and print publications tend to think more positively about the coverage than those who are getting their information from websites, radio or social media. About 68% of those who turn to network TV news think the media is doing well, while 66% of those who primarily turn to print publications think the same.

There also is a wide gap depending on your politics. Of those who consider themselves as Democrats or Democratic-leaning, 68% think the media is doing a good job, compared to only 37% of those who are Republicans or Republican-leaning.

More from Pew on Fox News

Pew Research senior writer and editor John Gramlich did a deep dive into the survey numbers from late last year about Fox News and found, as you would expect, very divisive results. While not at all surprising, it’s still worth noting that 65% of Republicans trust Fox News more than any other outlet, while 61% of Democrats distrust Fox News more than any other outlet.

Also not surprising is that older, white Americans tend to get most of their news from Fox News. The numbers break down like this: 37% of Americans 65 and older say their main source for news is Fox News — more than any other news outlet. Nearly nine in 10 (87%) who turn to Fox News identify their race and ethnicity as non-Hispanic white.

And when it comes to the coronavirus, of those who use Fox News as their primary news source, 63% believe President Donald Trump is doing an excellent job handling the crisis.

Which brings me to …

(Courtesy: Fox News)

Aaron Blake’s piece in The Washington Post, in which he writes a shift has taken place among some Trump supporters from originally dismissing the coronavirus to now suggesting it might not be as bad as some numbers suggest. Blake writes, “As the death toll climbs, some of them — particularly on Fox News — are launching into a new argument: that deaths caused by the coronavirus might be inflated.”

This is something to keep an eye on. Blake writes that, when this is all over, the number of coronavirus-related deaths might actually be greater than the official numbers. Yet, Blake also pointed to examples of Fox News personalities such as Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume who seem to be laying the groundwork for the argument that the numbers aren’t being counted correctly, that people dying of other illnesses are actually being counted as coronavirus deaths.

Trump said earlier this week that he thinks the death toll numbers have been “pretty accurate.” But Blake writes, “As the total grows, and Trump views it as a referendum on his response to the crisis, it’s not difficult to see him adopting the argument that it’s actually overcounted. He’ll need better arguments than the ones offered thus far.

Sullivan’s pessimistic prediction

In Wednesday’s Poynter Report, I mentioned how the new White House press secretary — Kayleigh McEnany, a fervent vocal supporter of President Trump — had a moment go viral in late February when she declared on Fox Business, “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.”

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan digs further into some of McEnany’s past words and actions and writes the new press secretary could do the impossible: make us miss Sean Spicer. Sullivan points to McEnany, in the past, pushing Obama birtherism conspiracies, as well as other knowingly false statements.

Comparing McEnany to other White House press secretaries under Trump, Sullivan wrote, “Best guess: She’ll be even worse than they were — even more blatantly political, even more contemptuous of the truth, even more of a sycophant. All this with an extra dollop of the combativeness that she showed as a Trump surrogate during the 2016 campaign and more recently as his campaign spokeswoman. And all this with the campaign fast approaching, and no discernible boundary between politicking and governing.”

‘Today wasn’t a great day’

The most compelling stories throughout this coronavirus pandemic have come from the hospitals on the front lines of this horrific crisis. New York Magazine has been running “Diary of a Hospital,” a series of dispatches as told by the medical staff at Mount Sinai Brooklyn. The latest was from Dr. Adam Brenner, who has been working 15-hour days, six days a week as the head of the ICU.

Brenner told New York’s Anna Silman that “today wasn’t a great day. We did the best we could. It just went on and on. A lot of people just dying in front of us. Due to the nature of the crisis, there are so many sick patients overwhelming the staff.”

Brenner described just how “horrible” the virus is, shutting down not only lungs, but kidneys and other organs. He also described how quickly many of the elderly die, but also how many younger people are getting the virus and suffering.

“I don’t know how long I can keep doing this for,” Brenner said. “In my mind, I’m going to do it, I’m going to be there until this is done, but it’s going to be very hard to come back to work after this is over.”

It’s heartbreaking stuff, but so important to read, just to fully understand what is going on.

Coronavirus’ attack on the media

We’ve written extensively at Poynter — and, sadly, will continue to — about the damaging economic impact that the coronavirus has had on the media industry, particularly newspapers. (Poynter’s Kristen Hare updates daily the list of layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs going on at media outlets all over the country.)

In his latest piece, Washington Post media writer Paul Farhi, along with Post reporters Sarah Ellison and Elahe Izadi, write “The coronavirus crisis is devastating the news industry. Many newspapers won’t survive it.”

The Post notes examples of layoffs and cutbacks at various newspapers and writes, “A tsunami of layoffs, cutbacks, furloughs and closures has washed over newsrooms across the United States over the past month — a time, ironically, when readership and viewership is surging with consumers in search of reliable information about the virus.”

How to build a life

Today, The Atlantic begins a new biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, called “How to Build a Life,” about pointing oneself toward happiness. The column was not created because of the coronavirus, but it certainly fits into place during this time of uncertainty and stress.

In his introduction, Brooks writes, “We’re stuck at home; our lives on COVID time have slowed to a near halt. This creates all sorts of obvious inconveniences, of course. But in the involuntary quiet, many of us also sense an opportunity to think a little more deeply about life. In our go-go-go world, we rarely get the chance to stop and consider the big drivers of our happiness and our sense of purpose.”

This is just the latest in what has been distinguished work from The Atlantic throughout the coronavirus crisis. Few news outlets have done a better job with their coverage.

Media tidbits

  • Dow Jones CEO William Lewis is leaving the company after being told his contract wasn’t being renewed. Dow Jones publishes The Wall Street Journal, which has performed well and grown under Lewis’ leadership. The Journal’s Lukas I. Alpert quoted a source saying the WSJ has added 100,000 new subscribers in the past three weeks. “I’m very sad to leave,” Lewis told Alpert. Lewis’ memo to staff says a successor will be named “soon.” (Note: This story is behind a paywall.)
  • More bad journalism news: The Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News are shutting down, according to The Guardian’s Jim Waterson. The Jewish Chronicle, first published in 1841, gave Waterson a statement that said, “Despite the heroic efforts of the editorial and production team at the newspaper, it has become clear that the Jewish Chronicle will not be able to survive the impact of the current coronavirus epidemic in its current form.”
  • Need a little good news about journalism these days? Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds writes that the Hearst Corporation, which owns 24 daily newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle, told its newsrooms there will be no layoffs, no furloughs and no pay cuts during the course of the coronavirus coverage. In fact, everyone is getting a 1% raise. At a time when papers are laying off employees and slashing payroll, the news from Hearst is a welcome respite.
  • The Associated Press has an intriguing-looking project set to publish this morning. It’s called “24 Hours: The Fight for New York.” (Here’s the trailer.) The series of stories and videos — put together by more than a dozen reporters, photographers and video journalists —follows New Yorkers for 24 hours in what has become a strange, new world. See it on the AP website after 10 a.m. Eastern.

The other big story

Bernie Sanders. (Photo: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX)

While overshadowed by the coronavirus, the big story of the day is Bernie Sanders stepping away from his bid to become the Democratic presidential nominee. That leaves Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic candidate. This news felt like only a matter of time, but it surely came as a crushing defeat for Sanders’ avid supporters.

In her piece for The New York Times, Sydney Ember wrote, “In many ways, Mr. Sanders never overcame the widely held view among Democrats that he was a political outlier, a self-described democratic socialist who proudly proclaimed himself to be an independent senator from Vermont rather than a member of the party establishment.”

FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. has an insightful breakdown of “Why Bernie Sanders Lost,” including the popular theory that Sanders was just too left for Democrats looking to beat Trump in November.

So now what happens in terms of the media, Sanders, Biden and the Democratic party? Normally, Sanders’ dropping out would be the focal point for primetime cable news and the Sunday morning shows. Surely there will still be mention of it, but the guess is the coronavirus will remain first and foremost on everyone’s agenda. How might that play out for the Democrats’ hope of unifying the party in the coming days and weeks? There might not be immediate opportunity for the Democrats to bridge the gap with those bitterly disappointed by Sanders suspending his campaign.

As the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Chelsea Janes write, “Sanders’s departure presents Democrats with an immediate challenge: Can the party unify as it failed to do in 2016, when a feud between supporters of Sanders and Hillary Clinton damaged the party’s efforts to win the presidency?”

Hot type

John Prine. (Jay Blakesberg / MediaPunch)

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

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