Robots and Quizzes: Engaging the Audience During a Pandemic

Robert Nemeth
Apr 28, 2020 · 3 min read
Photo by Patrick Assalé on Unsplash

Media outlets have been ramping up their coverage on the pandemic, but as competition for eyeballs is constantly on the rise, they also need new ways to reach out to their audience.

With a growing number of Covid-19 cases in every country, the interest in coverage on the pandemic also skyrocketed, prompting media outlets to start thinking about new ways to drive audience engagement with their coverage, and potentially to reach out to new audiences.

According to a report by the International Journalists’ Network (IJNET), many outlets began by creating a dedicated topic page for the pandemic.

The coronavirus page of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post provides links to the latest stories, videos and commentary, but it also includes an explainer page about the virus, with maps, charts and infographics. Beijing-based Caixin have live updates and a key facts sidebar, but they also launched a video diary about Wuhan, the Chinese province where the first Covid-19 cases were reported last year. The Greek portal Solomon Magazine created a multimedia publication of its stories.

NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, took its page dedicated to the pandemic one step further to include articles, stories, interactive graphs and tables. In addition, every day at 10:30 a.m., they summarize all the information in a news bulletin.

A Robot Can Also Help

The Swedish news media organization Aftonbladet decided to try a new approach: it turned to robots to drive audience engagement and outpace its competitors. The outlet started to use Corona Watch, an automatically generated feed that publishes all the stories about the pandemic in one place, Journalism.co.uk reports.

It took only a day from the idea to deployment, Aftonbladet’s managing editor, Michael Poromaa wrote in a blogpost, adding that

this solved the problem of updating the 21 regional healthcare authority websites every second, which would have been required in order to be the first to report on new corona cases.

The robot sends notifications to reports through its alert channel on the communication platform Slack, which, according to Poromaa, helped Aftonbladet to often become the first to publish news about new cases.

Diversifying Content

Instead of publishing only articles, maybe with some charts or videos, more and more outlets have turned to experimenting with new formats.

The Spanish portal El Diario decided to give its readers access to an interactive map created by Rovira i Virgili University. Using a predictive model, the map explains what the chances are for people to get the virus, IJNET reports.

Latvia-based outlet Meduza, which targets the Russian market, wanted to engage its readers even more: based on frequently asked questions about the pandemic, it launched a quiz. The quiz, in Russian, includes questions about whether money or mosquitoes can transmit the virus, or whether the disease can be cured with antibiotics or alcohol.

There are other unique ways to cover the pandemic. El Surtidor in Paraguay, a journalistic project of the NGO Memetic Media, tells stories in comic-style to inform their readers about the virus (see an example about the symptoms), with a special attention to fighting misinformation.

New Services

Other outlets decided to offer additional services to their readers, which is an already proven way of effectively engaging audiences.

Seeing the increasing number of social media posts of people requesting or offering help, Ireland’s Dublin Inquirer have created a local directory of services, groups, and small business offers, aimed at helping those in need. Even though the outlet uses a paywall, this directory is free to access.

Some other outlets, for example El Pais in Spain, realized that there is a need for answering readers’ questions about the pandemic quickly, so, they created a FAQ-style guide, classifying the questions into four categories: science, health, society and economics. As new information emerges, the guide is constantly updated.

With contributions from Rumi Akter and Aleksandra Skripnik.

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

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