Go to most publisher websites today, and most likely, COVID-19 has a big presence. On SIPA member insideARM, the lead story is Receivables Industry Leaders Share COVID-19 Strategies, Successes, and Lessons Learned. On Inside Mortgage Finance, the top story in “Latest News” is Amid the Pandemic, the Mortgage Market Has a New Origination King: Quicken.
At Education Week, a pop-up emerges, “Free Resources for School Closures.” At Business Management Daily, the lead article is Out of Sight, Not Out Of Mind: Managing Remote Employee Performance. At Behr’s GmbH in Germany, the first message I see is an ad for their “Online-Seminar-Serie – Corona: Maßnahmen für die Lebensmittelindustrie.” I don’t need advanced German to figure out what that’s about. (I just need Google – Corona: Measures for the Food Industry.)
Thus, I was a little surprised yesterday during an excellent webinar hosted by the American Society of Business Publication Editors titled, COVID-19 and B2B Publishing: A Panel Discussion. About midway through, a poll was conducted—and yes, polls really do work, because I was multi-tasking and it made me engage with the webinar! To paraphrase, the poll asked, “Are we continuing to cover the topics that had been previously planned or are we totally shifting to cover the impact of COVID-19?”
I voted shifting because it feels like COVID-19 has impacted everything, and we can’t look at anything the way we used to. But 84% voted the other way.
Fortunately, I had good company. “We’re going to be in the 16%,” said Sean Griffey, one of the panelists and CEO of Industry Dive. “We’re not hiring extra people [nor are they laying off]. So if we’re going to cover COVID, then we’re not going to cover some things that were planned. Some of those things we had planned just aren’t going to happen.
“At Industry Dive”—which now covers 19 industries—”we’re news driven. Every quarter we push our editorial to see what trends are shaping the industry and what stories do we want to own. COVID-19 is the story right now, if we’re going to be honest.”
In a Q&A yesterday conducted by Jim Kuhnhenn, the press freedom fellow at the National Press Club Journalism Institute, Industry Dive’s editor in chief, Davide Savenije, voiced a similar sentiment. “We’re seeing a black swan event that’s causing seismic change in every sector we cover. Some changes may last for the duration of the pandemic, and some may last after this is all ‘over.’
“So early on, we started asking, ‘Okay, well we don’t know exactly how businesses and industries are being impacted by it yet, we don’t know exactly how they’re planning or preparing, so let’s go out and ask those very simple basic questions….’ As we started tracking that really robustly just internally, we very quickly had the idea that readers will want to see these kinds of things.
“We’re trying to cover what’s changing in these industries, and part of the way that we do that is we think about storylines. … Part of our approach is to really think about which storylines are we going to own. We have relatively small teams of two, three, four or five journalists per industry. And so we really have to allocate our resources to go after the things that really matter most and not to be spread kind of thin and wide.”
I would guess that “small teams” describe most SIPA members, but then you see the incredible coverage that’s taking place and you would guess more. Quickly, most publishers realized that their audience wanted to know how this crisis is affecting them. And by answering that, more readers would come.
Writing on the Belgian news consultant site Twipe today, Mary-Katharine Phillips makes a great point. We’re bringing people in with crisis coverage, but then we need to show them more to retain them.
“As for new subscribers during the crisis, it will be key to ensure they develop a habit with the digital product in their onboarding journey. The first step in creating a habit is the internal trigger. For many subscribers today, that internal trigger is a desire to know the current situation regarding the corona crisis. However, publishers will need to make sure subscribers are exposed to the full breadth of their journalism. While it might seem like today all content is corona content, new subscribers need to be exposed to non-corona content as well.”
SIPA publishers are well-positioned to take advantage of the thirst of a new audience to know more about this crisis, in relation to their industry. Only time will tell when our “small teams” can return to those “non-corona” topics.