Reaching the Audience in the Time of COVID-19

Robert Nemeth
Apr 24, 2020 · 4 min read
Source: Pexels

From newsletters to podcasts and TikTok, media outlets are looking at new ways to reach their audience with virus-related coverage.

As the new coronavirus has been rapidly spreading and media outlets all over the world started focusing most of their resources on covering the pandemic, they also had to think about new ways of reaching their audience.

Many of them reacted quickly, “disseminating information using new methods beyond the usual day-to-day coverage,” the International Journalists’ Network (IJNET) reports. They have developed new products or launched new platforms to keep their audience informed as well as to engage new audiences.

Newsletters

In Brazil, the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed on 26 February 2020. The very same day, the online portal GaúchaZH decided to launch its own newsletter on the pandemic, which is available to subscribers only. Every time someone reads a story related to the virus on the website, they will be invited to sign up for the newsletter, which, in addition to latest updates, also offers advice on various topics ranging from how to wash hands properly to what people can do when scheduled trips are cancelled.

Swiss online media outlet, Heidi.news, founded only last year, also launched a free newsletter. This one is circulated daily and delivers all the latest news as well as reports from hospitals, and analysis, similarly to the newsletter launched by the Beijing-based Caixin.

Most outlets offer the content of these newsletters free-of-charge, even if their articles are usually behind a paywall.

We wanted to create an easy way for readers to track the outbreak, get accurate information and receive a curated guide to The Post’s reporting from across the globe in one place,

said Tessa Muggeridge, subscription and engagement editor at The Washington Post, which also offers articles linked in the newsletter for free.

Most of these newsletters prove to be successful. At the end of March, Canada’s public service broadcaster CBC reported 48,000 subscribers to its virus-related newsletter, which made it their fastest-growing newsletter, with a “remarkable” 70% open rate.

New Social Media Platforms

The Washington Post has also started to target younger audiences with its coronavirus coverage through the popular social media platform TikTok. The outlet has some 400,000 followers on the platform, which they started to use last year. They were mostly attracted by its engaging short videos.

“Outside of actual coverage that I’ve sprinkled in, as well as making sure that we’re responsible and that people are getting the right news about coronavirus,

I think there’s something about our account being positive and optimistic

and people have commented that they need that,” Dave Jorgenson, Washington Post’s video and TikTok journalist told Journalism.co.uk.

Other news outlets are turning to more conventional social media platforms. The privately owned Egyptian daily, Akhbar.masr uses Instagram to share the latest news. Since the outbreak began, the outlet has increased the number of posts about the virus, IJNET reports. Their posts include latest news, but also warnings issued by the Ministry of Health.

Podcasting

Other outlets decided to focus on producing more podcasts. For example, CNN launched a daily podcast hosted by the channel’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, which aims at answering the most common questions about the virus. The episodes are less than 15 minutes long and can be accessed free-of-charge.

Even though Podtrac reports a 10% decrease in podcast downloads in the U.S. since the beginning of March, coronavirus-related podcasts seem to be exceptions. A Vox Media executive told The New York Times that its podcasts had been downloaded 50% more than usual, with “newsy shows” being especially popular, while Slate’s coronavirus-related podcasts have received more than four million downloads, according to a spokesperson.

Old Tools Can Also Work

There are also media organizations that decided to try “old-school” methods like, for example, text messaging. Several local media outlets have started to use the platform Subtext to report on the pandemic. The platform allows subscribers to receive texts directly from journalists. It claims that in a month

nearly 200,000 people have subscribed via Subtext to receive the latest local and national COVID-19 updates from their newsroom of choice.

These outlets don’t only share their latest stories via text messages, but also answer their readers’ questions.

This approach seems to be successful: according to data provided by the company, journalists using Subtext have an average open rate of over 90%.

With contributions from Rumi Akter and Aleksandra Skripnik.

This post is the second in our series on innovations in journalism prompted by Covid-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for more articles!

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