April 7, 2020

Kelsey Ryan was supposed to start her job at The Joplin (Missouri) Globe in July of 2011. On the May day after a tornado tore through town and killed more than 150 people, she got a call from the newsroom.

Could she start early?

She could.

She was told not to drive at night. The power lines were all down.

So Ryan loaded up her car, left home in Emporia, Kansas, and was there by dawn the next day.

“It’s kind of like my whole career is like that,” said Ryan, founder of The Beacon.

She launched the nonprofit site in Kansas City after being laid off from The Kansas City Star. Ryan’s been building a board, a business plan and members (The Beacon’s fiscal sponsor is the Kansas Newspaper Foundation), and planned to start publishing this summer.

After the coronavirus became the singular story of our times, she moved that launch up to March 12 using the newsletter she started building to update supporters. It has more than 1,200 subscribers.

The Beacon is focused on in-depth coverage, not breaking news, though any journalist who makes that shift will tell you that’s a tough muscle to ignore. Ryan and the reporters she’s working with now are focusing on solutions journalism and telling stories through the newsletter, which comes out several times a week.

She’s also working with other local newsrooms in a weekly call meant to foster resource sharing and pooling.

“This is a really hard time for advertiser-based businesses,” Ryan said. “If there’s something that we can do to help others, we want to do that.”

Ryan, a former health care reporter who also covered the 2013 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, said that in some ways, covering the coronavirus is like covering a natural disaster.

“The difference to me is with Joplin, while it is a horrible event, it is a one-time thing,” she said. “It happened, it’s a day that changes your life, and you know that outside of this city, the world is normal.”

And in places where it’s normal, people send in help

“What’s different with this is it’s so drawn out. No one’s coming to help you. Because everyone is going through it.”

But there is help for journalists who want to start their own news sites.

Ryan, who’s also the membership and community manager for Local Independent Online News Publishers, said if you’ve been laid off or you want to start your own newsroom, there are a lot of resources out there to help, including from LION and the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Not everyone wants to start their own thing, she said.

“But if someone has this nagging feeling inside that they could do this, they should.”

Here are a few other examples of how local newsrooms are covering the story of the coronavirus:

Newsroom watch:

Monday was rough. Again. You can keep up with the full list here.

Help wanted:

One way Poynter wants to help right now is by sharing and amplifying all the resources we can. Please send me more, and check out this growing list of resources, which I’m updating daily. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Bright spots:

Not going to stop looking for these, even when they’re small.

  • Congrats to all the IRE award winners!
  • The Miami Herald’s Carlos Frías said it better than anyone else has in this tweet: “A newspaper is not a place; it’s a contract that says when the world is going sideways, reporters are out doing their best work …”
  • WZTV reported on a 6-year-old who beat the coronavirus.
  • “Within hours of launching custom COVID-19 Local News Fund donation pages, hundreds of readers had donated more than $17,000 to half a dozen local publishers.”
  • This made me cry, but happy tears. Skip to around the nine-minute mark if you’re a Hamilton fan.

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org and writes a weekly newsletter on the transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here. Kristen can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare.

This daily roundup of coverage by local news and resources for them is made possible with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Correction: Two webinars were credited to the wrong institutions, they have been updated. We apologize for the error.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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