Saturday, September 18, 2021
Sept. 18, 2021

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From the Newsroom: Coverage of COVID-19 shifts

By , Columbian Editor
Published:
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Back in March, I gave you my predictions about how media would cover the coronavirus pandemic as it faded. It’s time to update what is happening, since that time appears to be upon us.

The first thing to go, I wrote, would be the daily scorecard story, probably to be replaced by a weekly scorecard. That happened at the end of June.

Next, I thought, would be a wave of recovery stories and stories trying to measure what was lost in the pandemic. I think it is fair to say we are in the midst of that. I wrote this column on Wednesday afternoon; to test my theory I looked through the latest Associated Press news digest. Sure enough, I saw these two stories:

VIRUS OUTBREAK-BACK TO OFFICE — Companies around the U.S. are scrambling to figure out how to bring employees back to the office after more than a year of them working remotely. Most are proceeding cautiously, trying to navigate declining COVID-19 infections against a potential backlash by workers who are not ready to return.

FASHION-PANDEMIC-PURGE — A wardrobe purge is on for some as vaccinations have taken hold, restrictions have lifted, and offices reopen or finalize plans to do so. The main beneficiaries are secondhand clothing marketplaces and brick-and-mortar donation spots.

I continue to stand by my final prediction from March: A lot of the coverage will seem negative, but there will be “good news” stories too. And, remember, we aren’t getting sick as fast as we were last summer.

Thanksgiving edition

I know it’s the beginning of summer, but this week we were talking about the fall. Specifically, we are wondering what would you like to read about in the Thanksgiving Day issue of The Columbian.

My old boss, Lou Brancaccio, had a simple Thanksgiving rule: No bad news or gross photos on the front page. I like Lou’s rule; our newspaper is always a guest in your home, and on holidays we remember our manners. If there has to be bad news, play it on an inside page.

But the content question has become more complex since Lou retired a few years ago. To keep our production facilities from being overwhelmed, we print our Thanksgiving paper early, even before the Wednesday edition goes to press. In other words, the freshest news now appears in the Wednesday paper, not Thursday.

So what should we do? News Editor Merridee Hanson is already, in her words, “plotting and scheming.” Among the possibilities are a holiday gift guide, a retrospective on the year, and reprints of classic or historic news stories and pages. I think it would be fun to treat the Thanksgiving paper like a magazine and fill it with long, interesting stories that rarely make the cut. If you have some ideas, please send me an email. But no matter what we decide, you can rest assured we won’t be printing a lot of horrible news on the Thanksgiving front page.

Readers fund journalism

One of the worst-kept secrets in American journalism is that our print advertising has been gobbled up by social media and online retailers. The Columbian has not been immune to this trend.

A new report from Pew Research Center updates the numbers. It says that newspaper advertising revenue peaked at $49.4 billion in 2005 then plunged, falling to an estimated $8.8 billion in 2020. That’s — gulp — more than 80 percent.

How have newspapers survived this catastrophe? Readers have kept us in business. In 2020, U.S. newspaper circulation revenue was estimated at $11.1 billion. That compares with $10.7 billion in 2005, the year advertising peaked.

It’s terrible news for journalism and journalists, of course, but I do see one thing I like: Readers and readership are driving the products, not the whims and desires of advertisers. I think that bodes well for offering quality journalism, even if there is less of it.

So, once again, thank you sincerely for supporting The Columbian and independent, local journalism. We’ll keep trying our best for you.

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