Independent news providers are producing unique COVID-19 coverage. More than 60% of them are going beyond traditional journalism in their response to the crisis.
CASE STUDY #1
Star and Crescent
Area of influence: Portsmouth
Editor: Sarah Cheverton
Star and Crescent (S&C) is an independent news website that believes in journalism to create social change. Currently, they are operating with a reduced team, with only their editor and a volunteer running the site.
‘Ironically, our audience is growing, and has been over the last 5 or so weeks since we started focusing on providing locally focused information on support available about Covid-19 – but we need funding. We won't be able to sustain us through this indefinitely.’ Sarah Cheverton, Editor, Star and Crescent.
The team is also finding it difficult to expand their coverage as running the site and social media is time consuming – ‘this is particularly frustrating as the local newspaper doesn’t report in depth on some of the social impacts of the virus on residents, businesses and the voluntary sector, for example. This is where we want to focus: long form articles capturing the impact of the pandemic on disabled people, young people, BAME communities, small businesses, charities and services -in their own words. We want to share their experiences widely so that local supporting services are better equipped to help where people are falling ‘between the gaps.’
Beyond traditional journalism
S&C are currently partnering with local domestic violence charity, Aurora New Dawn, who launched a 24-hour hotline for victims in Hampshire, and publishing a weekly article on the site to capture the impact of the pandemic on victims and survivors of abuse, and on the organisation and their staff. They are starting to work with another charity, PARCS, to share reports from young female leaders and activists in the field of sexual violence.
Since the lockdown, two local residents – one who is visually impaired and has diabetes, the other a single parent with 4 kids – are writing daily diaries of their experiences. The team are also working with a local sixth form college to share the impact of the pandemic and virus on young people, and with a local museum, that while closed, is trying to document the pandemic through objects.
In 2018, the team trained 12 local residents in the skills and methods of investigative journalism, in partnership with the Centre for Investigative Journalism, on their Reclaim the News training programme. Many of these residents still work with S&C as community reporters.
Stories and trusted information
S&C are also providing a weekly article to provide information to the community. For example, they have recently published a list of the support available to small businesses in the city; an article on a local partnership, The HIVE, which is supporting local residents with food deliveries and pharmacy collections; as well as a weekly column from Portsmouth’s Good Mental Health Cooperative, sharing resources to help people suffering with anxiety and stress linked to the pandemic. They are also working on stories on the crisis facing local news, and on where people can access accurate, up-to-date data on the number of confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19 in Portsmouth.
Response from the community and impact
S&C readers have been in touch to tell the team how useful the diaries they are publishing are in helping them cope with lockdown. Other readers have been able to apply for funding available to them thanks to S&C’s stories on small businesses and the crisis.
Their coverage of Aurora’s domestic violence helpline has helped the charity to reach a large audience, allowing them to save money on promotion.
Readers have also been in touch to share their experiences of being able to shop safely where social distancing is being followed in specific local shops.
Another visually impaired reader got in touch to share his experience of being unable to socially distance when he is out, which left him in tears in the street as he realised he couldn't stop himself or anyone else breaching the guidelines as he can't see them.
The impact also goes beyond their local audience: ‘For the first time this week, one of our referrals to the site was MumsNet, we assume linking to our diary from single parent, Maddie Wallace, who has documented first-hand the struggles with parenting, home-schooling and anxiety during a pandemic.’
‘The response so far shows me that we are hitting
the tip of the iceberg and there's so much more we could cover.’
Sarah Cheverton, Editor, Star and Crescent.
CASE STUDY #2
The Week In: Increasing online and on-air presence; and the danger of losing a key portion of their audience
Area: Bristol and NE Somerset
Editor: Stephen Rodgers
The Week In is a free weekly newspaper in a magazine format that focuses on local issues in Bristol and NE Somerset.
Just like most independent news providers, The Week In has been affected by the loss of advertising revenue. With almost 16,000 printed copies each week, the major distribution outlets are supermarkets, pubs, cafes, libraries and leisure venues. Almost all of these are closed to them now.
Their online edition normally receives around 2,000 views a week. Through social media, they have managed to more than double traffic to their site over the last four weeks.
However, this is having an impact on the audiences they are reaching now. They have always been aware that their print and online editions attract different reader profiles: it is the older and less tech savvy who predominantly read the print version.
‘It is [the older part] of the local population which probably needs The Week In
most, as a means of communication, information and entertainment.’
Stephen Rodgers, Editor.
Beyond traditional journalism
The Week In are now relying on word of mouth recommendations, and the hope that younger family members might help lead some of their print edition readers to embrace technology and become part of the new readership for the online edition. They are now considering funding alternatives beyond sales and advertising revenue.
Locally, they are in contact with community help groups which are providing shopping services for elderly residents. Food banks and dial-a-ride bus services are now also delivering.
They are also working with the community radio station in the Keynsham area, a new broadcaster which only started in February. As a result of the crisis, it has immediately become a source of up-to-date community information. It now has a regular news bulletin which is provided by The Week In, using material they publish online. Their aim: to reach some of those missing readers who may well find listening to the radio an easier task than going online.
In terms of costs, they have had to furlough their sales staff, but have kept their small journalism team. They are still able to produce news weekly. While they are confident that they will still be able to run for the next five months, the situation is being kept under review on a daily basis.
>> More case studies coming soon...