Everything about our collective daily lives has changed in the past three months, since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, but some of the ways we’ve adapted to meet this challenge were already in the works. Coronavirus might have just sped up the acceleration in evolving technology and work habits that were inevitable.
“COVID has changed the way everything is operating, and not temporarily,” says Mike Donoghue of The Alpha Group. “I think we’re seeing the speeding up of existing trends in consumer behavior. The remote workforce — you’d expect that, over the years, there are cost savings (to having employees work remotely instead of in an office). At this point, you have to wonder what percentage of people are going to go back to the same office environment they left.”
The same might be true for news organizations — many had already started to try and take relationships with their readers and viewers back from social media to create something more valuable to the communities they serve.
“Look at the last 10-15 years,” says The Alpha Group’s David Cohn. “The internet allowed people to form communities outside geography. Media became a national game. Coronavirus is very much a local story.”
Through Subtext, the text-based platform Cohn and Donoghue released earlier this year, people can directly ask reporters questions and get personalized answers about issues pertaining to their hometowns. It’s re-establishing a relationship between reporter and community in a way that has gotten lost, or at least watered down, in the large-scale social media practice.
Coronavirus has also spurred some newsrooms to adopt practices that take them back to a position of providing real community service, Cohn says. He points to the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News in particular: Both provided ways for people in need to virtually raise their hands in looking for assistance in the early days of quarantine, while also providing an opportunity for neighbors to step up and provide help, including simple things like dropping off groceries.
Some news outlets have also seen an increase in subscribers as people want news from their backyards and want access to things that matter directly to them, like finding out locations for COVID-19 testing.
But how will those relationships be sustained going forward, as things start to return to something like normal?
“It’s a real challenge, but for the time being, that’s going to be the thing news organizations are going to have to figure out,” Cohn says. “To leverage that relationship going forward until things like events or ad revenue come back in earnest. Every in-person event is on hold right now. In a world where those don’t come back soon, news organizations are going to have to figure out that service and make it a service.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks to David Cohn and Mike Donoghue of The Alpha Group about how COVID-19 has sped up technology-based evolutions that were already starting to take shape and how newsrooms will need to keep those changes coming when things return to “normal.”