COVID-19 reshaping media world 

By Joe Coffey | The Fifth Estate

While many types of businesses are waiting for a return to normal, the coronavirus is forcing local media organizations to evolve and face the future now.

For TV stations, this involves a mix of new approaches and, at times, a different set of broadcast standards. For a while now, cell phone cameras, increasingly affordable A/V production equipment and social media platforms have allowed non-journalists to produce content and disseminate it to the masses. Now local TV news stations, once set apart by traditional electronic news gathering methods and facilities, are using Skype, Zoom and FaceTime on the air.

Even the traditional TV studio with a newsdesk and the trimmings is proving to be somewhat unnecessary. Local TV stations are showing how nimble they are, broadcasting from reporters’ homes and around town using their phones and webcams.

“It’s the information that matters,” says Adam Carros, news director for KCRG-TV9. “In terms of iPhone cameras and whatnot, I think a lot of it is just acceptance on our end because the viewers have already shown they’re willing to accept that.”

It’s true. Viewers are constantly looking for information online, especially in social media news feeds where posts from friends and family also appear. Online viewers are amplifying information from Carros’ news team – that’s why KCRG doesn’t hesitate to share information on Facebook and Twitter. KWWL takes a similar approach to sharing the goods as soon as possible via whatever platform necessary.

“The moment we get something substantive, we will put it up on our site,” says KWWL news director Allison Gibson. “We’re fortunate to have social media and the dot-two channel (CW7.2) – we send information out any way we can.”

Historically print-first news operations, like The Gazette, have battled editors’ save-it-for-the morning edition mentality. Print media can provide deeper and more-thorough reporting, sure, but the downside is that most of today’s media consumers expect their news online instantly, and free.

The coronavirus has prompted The Gazette to release more stories online well ahead of its morning paper but that’s a far cry from what local TV stations are doing.

KGAN/KFXA cranks out information on multiple news broadcasts on two channels as well as on the internet and social media. In addition to KCRG’s normal PM newscasts at noon, 5, 6 and 10 p.m., they’re launching a 4 p.m. newscast on Monday. KWWL is so willing to bring viewers news at it happens, they recently ran four simultaneous Facebook livestreams of key Eastern Iowa counties holding meetings and press conferences on the coronavirus.

To save money during these uncertain times, many local businesses are forgoing their usual ad buys with local media. A recent Monday issue of The Gazette barely had a (combined) half-page of ads in the A-section. TV stations are feeling the pinch, too, although companies like Hy-Vee have increased their TV ad buys with some stations, opting to increase their messaging to customers via their own ads that explain store hours and their commitment to the community.

The Corridor Business Journal’s online traffic and email newsletter signups have skyrocketed since the outbreak. Some of the CBJ’s live events have been canceled but the effort to avoid getting people in a room together has resulted in new CBJ webinars. These had been discussed for a while but got fast-tracked due to the coronavirus.

“We’re not making money on those right now,” says CBJ Publisher John Lohman. “But we feel it’s needed and the right thing to do. We are informing our readers about what they need to know to navigate this tough time for businesses.”

Indeed, local media business models are being tweaked, platform priorities are changing and the sheer amount of information being disseminated is increasing.  My guess is that many of these changes are here to stay. •

Joe Coffey has 20 years of experience as a journalist, educator and marketer in the Corridor.