We’re all in this together, and the work of local news shows it

They're building resources, tools, connecting people and covering the story

March 26, 2020

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here

“We were all just in shock, like, you’re kidding,” an elementary and special ed teacher told WGBH’s Arun Rath on his new show Tuesday night about finding out schools were shutting down because of the spread of the coronavirus. “We had nothing prepared.”

Gina Garro, that teacher, told Rath about talking individually to her students and the ways she’s trying to ease anxiety and stay connected.

The new show, “In It Together,” airs weeknights and invites people to call in with their questions and talk with experts. And it captures what so many local newsrooms are doing right now — showing their communities that they’re in this together.

Here are some other examples of work that can only happen at the local level:

  • The Miami Herald launched People Helping People, an initiative to connect people who want to help with people who need it. “…We are strong, and as we distance ourselves to get through this, we can also come together,” Connie Ogle reported on March 23. “Maybe you need or have to offer food, a job or housing. Some agencies stand ready to help as well.” It includes ways to help and a Google Form to get started.
  • Eagle Radio operates stations and news sites in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. On Monday, it launched a site that asks local businesses to pledge to follow World Health Organization guidelines to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. I counted 350 businesses so far that signed up for Help Stop The Spread.
  • The Long Beach Post, a daily online newsroom in Long Beach, California, has built a lot of cool things, including making all coronavirus coverage free to reuse and republish and an online hub for Long Beach neighborhoods to organize and communicate.
  • And as music festivals and events started announcing cancellations, Vanessa Franko, digital director of entertainment at Southern California News Group, included this for newsletter subscribers: “Are you bummed about the cancellations and postponements? Have they made you rethink everything? I’m here for you. Reply to the email and I’ll send you some soothing yacht rock jams, which is how I’m getting through this week.” Franko told me she’s gotten a lot of requests since.  “I don’t know if it speaks to the human condition or that we all need to be there for each other right now,” she told me in an email, ‘but it’s been nice as a break from all things coronavirus.”

Related: How to consume news during the coronavirus pandemic

Help wanted

As the coronavirus hits public health and the economy, it’s already caused the end of several alt-weeklies. Other publications that rely on a mix of revenue sources are in great danger as they’re also in great demand. One way Poynter wants to help is to share and amplify all the resources we can. Please send me more.

Related: Poynter announces free News University courses to help journalism educators and students

Bright spots:

  • These are strange times and this newsletter will adjust for them. Stay tuned and safe, and please let me know what you’d like to see here.
  • I spoke with my coworkers about how to work from home, and I’ve made a video on Instagram every day this week with one simple tip. To sum up: Don’t work in your PJs, but it’s OK to do housework.
  • Project Oasis will be a guide “to help entrepreneurs start local news businesses, and existing local news startup founders learn from the successes of their peers.” What a perfect name.
  • One personal bright spot: I’m among the newest class of RJI fellows! I’ll be working on a local obituary project with the Tampa Bay Times, and can’t wait to see the work of my fellow… um… fellows.
  • One idea to borrow from the bigs: I love this photo series from The Washington Post on empty spaces. What do the empty spaces look like where you live? How can you safely show it to your community? Can they share what they’re seeing? Seeing these empty places this morning reminded me that they’re still there and made me feel solidarity that so many people are staying home.
  • And big congrats to the newsrooms who will be getting a total of $1 million in grants to support their coronavirus coverage. This project is from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association, and in this first round, it will give $5,000 each to 50 local newsrooms in the U.S. and Canada. According to a press release, “the grants will help fulfill needs such as increasing frequency of publishing, combating misinformation and serving vulnerable and at-risk groups.” Grantees include Madison365, QCityMetro, The Post and Courier and WURD Radio.

That’s it for me. I’m going to close with my new mantra, something I’ve stitched into my brain:

Unlock your jaw, lower your shoulders, roll your neck.

Be well,

Kristen

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