Covid-19: Where To from Here?

Will Covid-19, better known as the coronavirus, change how tech and business reporters spend their time? Yes, and the changes have begun. We're querying tech and business editors and will update this article throughout coming days. Here's what we've learned from the front lines so far...

Jim Kerstetter, deputy technology editor, NY Times
I can only speak to the tech reporting team, obviously. Our reporters in China are aggressively reporting from both a health and a business standpoint. In the United States, we're focused for the moment, thankfully, on the business story. That's financial impact, as we've seen with Apple and Microsoft. That includes conferences -- who is canceling and who is going ahead. And employee safety: Are companies restricting travel, even within the United States? Our Bits newsletter will go into this in some depth [Friday] morning. We're watching closely for impacts on tech supply chains as well as virus-related disinformation. Also, we're helping out other parts of the Business desk on the financial market impact, as well as whenever else other parts of the newsroom need an assist.

David Lidsky, deputy editor, Fast Company
I am not sure that the pandemic has changed our thinking or process at this point beyond some minor inconveniences. We're covering the story as it develops, as we would any other big story, looking for the most appropriate ways to deliver value for readers across our channels. So it's a mix of news, service, and even a little levity (picking up the story about the facial hair guidelines). I think it's important not to panic and overreact, but obviously remain vigilant in following developments and being open to changing our opinion and approach as warranted. As I mentioned, there have been a couple of small things thus far. A reporter had planned to cover an event in San Francisco next week for a future story but it was just canceled, so the piece may get pushed back an issue. Facebook canceling F8 means that we won't be covering a major developer event as we otherwise would have but it is what it is. We'll write about something else that week.

David adds:

Apologies for the misstatement regarding F8. If there's still going to be streaming sessions and keynotes, which had eluded me until just now, I imagine we'll find a meaningful way to cover it in that context though obviously it'll be a bit different than in person. 

We'll update this article as additional editors share their thinking.

SWMS Analysis
Tech and business media faced a similar crisis in the wake of 9/11: how does one cover a story so sudden and massive that no other story seems to matter? 

In retrospect, terrorism quickly became more of a "consumer media" story -- primarily reflected in television and talk radio -- while business and tech media "recovered" relatively quickly and returned to chronicling the dot-com crash, which had begun with a Nasdaq plummet 17 months earlier.

This time it's different. Covid-19 is certainly a "consumer" story but it's also a story impacting supply chains, workforces, financial markets, policy, authority, and so much more. Tech and business reporters won't be going "back to work" for a while. EICs will deploy reporters fluidly, each day scribbling whiteboard scenarios and weighing the probabilities and implications for each. Zooms and Slack threads will emerge one after another.

"Stories" are out of context in this environment. 

For tech PR, the path forward is to amass anecdotes of imagination and leadership within your client base (or your company if in-house) and stream them to your friendlies, so they can contribute them to ad hoc summaries and other forms of "liquid" edit as they emerge.

Examples: 

-- how are companies managing their people and processes in historic ambiguity? 
-- are companies restructuring on the fly to manage customer concerns? 
-- what unintended consequences are companies already seeing and how are they being managed?

Think "reader entry points." These three examples would interest any business. Be inclusive.

Yes, extracting this info from clients or management won't be easy, primarily because this information is sensitive, and no direct business benefit accrues from sharing it. What they must be made to understand is, EICs and their deputies -- especially in Tier 1 -- have turned to team reporting in order to "just-in-time assemble" the perspective and expertise required to cover the history that's about to unfold.

Covid-19 coverage demands this approach, and newsrooms will weigh little else in the weeks ahead. Build the relationships today and monetize them tomorrow.

Strangely enough, crises like Covid-19 place PR pros and journalists on equal footing because "nobody knows anything" and "one network is as good as another." PR pros are simply another vector from which up-to-the-minute insights can come.

This is your chance to surprise and please.

***

On Mon. Mar 2, BuzzFeed reporter Alex Kantrowitz published this in his weekly newsletter.

The Last Word

On Friday, I published a story about how big tech companies are preparing for coronavirus to spread across the US, and the globe. How’s your company responding to the threat? I’d love to hear from you. Reply to this email with your thoughts. 

Have a great week.

Best,
Alex 

Journalists are leaving media brands every week. Read the fruits of 16 confidential interviews with journalists now working at tech brands or PR agencies, and five interviews with the executives who hired these journalists.
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