We survived March.
And here we are on the first day of April — known in much of the world as April Fool’s Day, a day of tricks and jokes. Feels like we’ve all been pranked, doesn’t it?
My family is on day 9 of our city’s shelter-at-home order. We’re on day 17 of a less formal family lockdown. We’re on day 23 of paying obsessive daily attention to COVID-19 and our hand-washing habits. I just figured out how to buy groceries online, made up a laundry schedule so nobody’s wet clothes need be piled on top of the dryer, and am enjoying weekly Zoom happy hours with our best friends.
That’s what’s going right.
In other news, my noise-cancelling headphones are the only thing that keep me from yelling at the other four humans in my house as they disturb both my empty nest and my home office, my son’s college graduation in New York City is surely going to be cancelled, my husband works for a bank so we have visions of the 2008 recession running through our heads, and my mother-in-law is going through chemo for breast cancer.
That’s what’s going wrong.
All of these items are different degrees of monumental, don’t get me wrong. And some days at some times, they are consuming. But if we lose sight of the wins, we’re going to get lost in the losses. And it’s too early in this pandemic for that — in my family and in our industry.
In the past month, we’ve highlighted so many things going right in our industry, including a print production team from South Korea that moved into its print plant instead of risking a COVID-19 outbreak that would stop production. A quick look through my inbox and INMA.org is an excellent reminder of all the success stories like this one that we have seen. It boggles my mind to consider how much my family, our industry, and our entire world have changed in a matter of weeks.
I chuckle when I see an email from an industry colleague on March 4: “I’m not sure this is huge, to be honest. I’m not sure how many [INMA members] would have anything to actually say. Maybe over the summer months there might be tales to tell?” Another called it a “temporary topic.”
A few days earlier, we’d all been together in New York for the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit. A few days later, we’d be cancelling our 90th-annual World Congress of News Media (in Paris of all places!) and, instead, gathering daily content capturing what our members are doing worldwide.
We’re all along different timelines with the pandemic. But wherever you are, your company quickly created niche/pop-up coronavirus newsletters, COVID-19 task forces, and clever marketing campaigns. Companies and countries began instituting travel restrictions, publishers transitioned workers to their home offices, the rest of the world started looking to Asian countries (who had experienced much of this during the SARS outbreak of 2003). The wisdom gained from Singpore Press Holdings and South China Morning Post earlier this month was priceless. And in the past few weeks, news media companies celebrated the first day they published their print and digital editions with a work-from-home staff.
Like your family on lockdown, your staff developed new norms, new routines, new expectations, and, I hope, new ways to bring crucial joy and information.
In Austria, Russmedia, inspired by Italians, organised a balcony concert on Sunday, March 15. Under its #vorarlberghältzusammen (Vorarlberg Stays Together) campaign, the company coordinated with local businesses to send announcements to the public and helped SMBs compete with Amazon with marketing and delivery services.
“On every single topic, we have had tremendous feedback in the community,” Georg Burtscher shared with me via e-mail. “Our reach portal, vol.at, is definitely the news platform for the whole area together with the daily newspaper VN. Traffic is three times higher than average and picks up to five times higher. Our livestream and news streams are bringing 100,000 or more together.”
Axel Springer in Germany offered free inserts on its job portal Stepstone for professions in the thick of the pandemic (medical workers, for example). Also in Germany, Die Zeit launched its Wissens-Newsrooms tips via podcast on how to cope and thrive in these times of contact ban and social distancing, how to live and work with people in such close quarters, and how to cope with loneliness. The company also introduced “Videosprechstunde,” a video consultation hour where readers could call in and get answers from experts on COVID-19.
In Belgium, Het Laatste Nieuws (HLN) promoted its content in a column by Deputy Editor-in-Chief Dimitri Antonissen, who said “the only vaccine available is providing you with the right information.”
We interviewed Alessio Balbi, who heads the digital newsroom of La Repubblica in Rome, Italy, one of the hardest hit countries in the world. My family and I were in Rome less than a month before coronavirus made its way there. The stories coming from this culturally rich country are unbelievable when I consider I was just walking those streets — streets full of people and life and history. Don’t we all have that same shared reaction to videos and photos of places we’ve visited that are now being ravaged by the pandemic?
In a country where newspaper circulations have been in decline for years and not many readers wanted to pay for news, there has been a major shift during the crisis in Italy: “Three weeks ago, I would say: ‘Reaching 100,000 online subscribers in Italy is impossible.’ Now we are focused on how to keep them after the trial is over,” Balbi told us.
In Latin America and India, publishers have been dealing with rumours of coronavirus transmission via news print. India has been hit hard with these thus far baseless concerns. INMA Executive Director/CEO Earl J. Wilkinson tackled the topic in his blog last week.
Yet even in India — where print is the way news content is distributed and consumed — competitors are banding together to make an appeal to readers to prioritise trusted journalism.
In Honduras, El Heraldo ran a campaign on the safety of newsprint, saying the publisher was “always responsible with the information.” La Prensa Grafica in El Salvador did the same, explaining that there have been no incidents of transmission of the COVID-19 from printed products.
In the United States, The Wall Street Journal is marketing its brand and the one thing that is winning in all of this: journalism.
What started as a chaotic month in most of the world has ended as a tragic one as revenue and personnel losses become very real. Instability and chaos are the new norm at home and at work. I don’t mean to take away from any of these current or future pain points. Just like my personal coup of getting a laundry schedule together does nothing to ease the concern around my mother-in-law’s chemo treatment during a pandemic, none of these winning initiatives ease the pain of dramatic losses in advertising or heartbreaking furloughs and redundancies.
Yet as we begin this new month in this new reality, I will continue to look for the wins — in the endless traffic my kitchen and our Web sites are seeing, in the community my friends build on Zoom and our industry encourages within our cities, in the daily wins — personally and professionally — among the daily losses that keep hitting us all.
I loved this public statement by two Swedish competitors, Joakim Flodin, CEO of Schibsted Marketing Services, and Alexander Lydecker, CCO of Bonnier News: “Strong editorial media is undoubtedly a strength for our society, and the media’s role as a news broker is especially important right now. At a time when our entire society is at the forefront and we are all expected to pull our straw to the stack, we want to encourage everyone in our industry to take an extra look at what ... media can solve.”
We have all been hit by too much. The prank feels never ending. Yet our journalism is the only vaccine many in our audience have, and it truly is is solving many problems each day. Remember how important this daily miracle truly is — especially now.