How 3 publishers connected readers to COVID-19 community resources

By Brie Logsdon

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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By Paula Felps

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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By Shelley Seale

INMA

Austin, Texas, United States

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As the pandemic spread around the world, publishers found themselves in a unique position to provide more resources in as many formats as possible to reach larger audiences. From children to senior citizens, from the poorest of the population to the wealthiest, the need for information — delivered in a way that was accessible regardless of their status — became more pressing than at any other time in recent history.  

News media companies answered the call, quickly pivoting to meet the changing environment and providing readers with resources that could help them wade through misinformation, create good self-care habits, and stay connected in ways that haven’t been needed before.  

In the sixth of nine modules of INMA’s Virtual World Congress, attendees heard COVID-19 case studies from around the world in a session entitled “Building Brand and Community: How Will You Be Remembered Post-Crisis?” Eleven news media companies, finalists for the Global Media Awards in an added category related to COVID-19 initiatives, shared their stories on sharing community resources, building community, and increasing digital subscriptions

Here are the three case studies in connecting readers to community resources. 

CNN, United States 

CNN developed its 411 initiative as a public service tool that allows users to enter their zip code and get a personalised, data-driven experience of coronavirus resources in their community.

“We built CNN 411 as a tool for our users in the United States,” Nitya Chambers, vice president of emerging products and platforms at CNN, explained. “The content strategy of the story was really a public health crisis at the foundation. We were using the lens of breaking news, holding the powerful accountable, and public service.”

CNN's 411 Web app gives users personalised resources based on their zip code.
CNN's 411 Web app gives users personalised resources based on their zip code.

The question they wanted to answer for their users was, what does this mean for me? “That was very much at the heart and focus of the product, vision, and strategy of what we built,” Chambers said. “We also wanted the information to be presented dynamically.”

The CNN team formed a hypothesis: How might we create a public service tool that gives people a snapshot of what’s going on with COVID-19 in their community?

CNN saw their objective as connecting users to data in a way that didn’t induce panic and that was constantly updated. The team identified several opportunities to help:

  • Be positive.
  • Present facts, data, and charts.
  • Provide reports and updates from medical experts, not pundits.
  • Prioritise support and unity over criticism.
  • Link to useful information such as government resources and how to help.

CNN developed the 411 Web app on a 13-day timeline, starting on March 16 with the idea, moving through initial audience surveys and product concept, and launching the beta tool on April 1. The media company first launched with limited features the team felt comfortable with, particularly with everyone working remotely. Then they started to bring in partners to add other features. They also collected user feedback along the way, conducting more surveys and reviews on how people were using the tool and what information was most important to them.

Onet, Poland 

Onet, part of Ringier Axel Springer Polska, had a clear goal with its #stayathome campaign: Keep people from going crazy as they sheltered safely in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The #StayAtHome campaign was designed to keep audiences informed and entertained during the lockdown.
The #StayAtHome campaign was designed to keep audiences informed and entertained during the lockdown.

Onet reaches 8 million people daily, so creating diverse content that appeals across the spectrum of interests and needs was crucial. Sabina Lipska, chief video officer at Ringier Axel Springer Polska, shared a roadmap of the ideas and initiatives deployed from early March to April. The diverse and comprehensive content included practical and psychological advice, entertainment, and tools that aimed to make the lockdown more manageable for all audiences. 

Using COVID-19 research, the company was able to create informative articles and also pinpoint user concerns. The Corona Checker tool was developed to help answer the prominent initial question to come from the pandemic: Am I or my loved ones sick? The test has now been taken by half a million Poles. 

Video programming is another facet of Onet’s COVID-19 response. Before the pandemic, video production normally took weeks. Now, new segments were planned and launched almost overnight, Lipska said. A new 30-minute daily show, hosted by the lifestyle editor who is also a psychologist, caters to a variety of user needs. 

This programme is also serving new needs of clients and has been a nice source of revenue as it hits 18 million views for all the videos so far, Lipska said. “This show and this situation is completely unprecedented.”

The Straits Times, Singapore 

As the first cases began to affect the country in March, Serene Luo, schools editor, said the company realised “there was a lot of information for young people, but most of it was not written with young people in mind.” They saw a tremendous opportunity to provide young people with the information they were looking for. 

The Straits Times saw a need to communicate to young readers about the pandemic with content written just for their age groups.
The Straits Times saw a need to communicate to young readers about the pandemic with content written just for their age groups.

As the pandemic progressed, the ST Schools department began curating events and interpreting them for a younger audience, being sure to provide them with key details in a language that was easy for them to absorb. In April, they looked at the health policies and what the government was doing, how the coronavirus was impacting the economy, and what it meant for the future. 

Rather than leaving the young audience out of the conversation, as often happens in news coverage, Luo said they chose to illustrate how important individual actions are and how they can change outcomes. To do that, the ST brand used three publications, each with content geared toward a specific audience. 

  • Little Red Dot, aimed at children under the age of 12.
  • IN, for students age 13 through 17.
  • ST.TLDR, for 17- to 25-year-olds.

As part of its outreach to students 17 and older, the ST.TLDR Instagram account offered daily stories with tips for users to stay healthy — both physically and mentally — and to stay emotionally connected even while physically different. The interactive polls and quizzes features allowed them to ask questions and identify where students might be lacking, such as in sleep or relationships. 

“At the end of two or three months, we found that our publications had reached over 201,000 students,” Luo said. “The population of students is about 285,000, so we really enjoyed being able to reach that many of them.”

The Congress continues on Friday with a Brainsnacks module featuring 10 case studies with actionable lessons learned from INMA members around the world. Register here for individual sessions or the entire Congress (the latter includes access to this and previous sessions).

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