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Media in the time of COVID-19…

The media, like us all, is scrambling to get their collective heads around the COVID-19 pandemic.  The scope and speed of this story has even the most experienced and hardened journalists struggling to keep up with the daily updates, press conferences, statistical data dumps and of course, the very real and sad human toll. Talk radio stations’ switchboards are jammed, news websites and platforms are seeing their highest digital readership numbers ever, and television news programs across the day are recording ratings like never before. There’s seems to be an insatiable appetite for news and information now which shows little sign of slowing down.

In the initial stages of COVID-19, the focus was squarely on the health aspects of the virus and some of the more unusual human behaviours like panic buying and hoarding. As we learnt more about how to combat coronavirus and then saw strict social distancing measures introduced, the media attention switched to the profound financial and economic effects of business closures, travel restrictions and the collapse of the stock market. We’ve now moved into another stage of coverage, which is very much about coping with social distancing, home isolation and the effects on our health and well-being. The media is also looking at the broader impact on our business and social lives and is very keen on positive stories that illustrate forbearance and innovation in these unsettling times.

How can experts look to take advantage of the media’s current all-consuming focus on COVID-19? Firstly, accept that the current state of the world is unlikely to change in the short term, so don’t expect that there’ll be interest in an issue or topic that can’t be linked in some way to our current COVID-19 reality. I was told by one experienced TV producer last week, that they would look at other stories, but they would need to be extraordinary, in the true sense of the word.

Secondly, don’t be too strident with your opinions. The media is looking for calm, rational and factual commentary now, not table thumping or anything too hyper-critical. Where possible offer solutions, advice, encouragement and education. Target individuals, businesspeople, families and couples with your stories, and use your own circumstances or your clients and friends’ situations to find inspiration.

Be realistic in your expectations from the media. We’ve had several experts cancelled from media engagements due to breaking news. Right now, many of the magazine style/entertainment shows on TV and radio are very much movable feasts depending on what’s in the news and what’s breaking each day.

Be quick off the mark. The media cycle is moving at lightning speed. If you see an angle from your area of expertise, get on the front foot with your comment or analysis. Don’t wait until the next day or “later on” as there’s a good chance something else may have superseded it.

Finally, recognise that as we move through the COVID-19 pandemic and begin to “flatten the curve” that we’ll be looking to the next stage of media, which will be focused on how we emerge from isolation and will also look at what lessons we’ve learned.  We’re not quite there yet, but as we seem to be heading in the right direction, hopefully that stage will come sooner rather than later.

By John Solvander, Director of Media Engagement, Media Stable.

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