COVID-19: how to interest the media?

“The world has turned upside down! We’re covering topics we would never normally cover.” This confidence from a La Presse journalist sums up the state of mind of those who keep us informed on a daily basis. Approaching the media these days requires more tact and sensitivity than ever. To better understand what has changed since the beginning of the crisis, we have gathered the views of journalists from several sectors. Here’s what you need to know to stay relevant and avoid missteps.

In the field is the place to be

Journalists are facing a major challenge these days: most of their interviews are conducted over the phone. Victims of an almost-generalized confinement, they feel far from their favourite place: in the field. “Any meeting or connection you can make in person is worth its weight in gold,” says a Montreal journalist. As the days pass, the pandemic relies all the more on numbers, statistics and modelling. “There’s a lack of people who can talk to us in person and give us their point of view,” the reporter adds. Organizations that can accommodate a media representative—with the necessary protections—are more likely to get media talking about them. “You get 1,000 points more if you have a story with a testimonial from in the field,” says one researcher.

Need for positivism

The media treatment of COVID-19 often oscillates between uncertainty, anxiety and restraint. As the crisis evolves, the need to instill hope increases. “The topics around helping one another are particularly popular,” explains a journalist from a Montreal daily newspaper. Various donations, the manufacture of emergency equipment and assorted chains of solidarity— topics that normally generate brief articles at the best of times—are now attracting interest. “We want to talk about solutions, to show the good side of humanity. Even the scandals that columnists usually love to write about are relegated to the background,” she adds.

Increased immediacy

With few exceptions, before the pandemic, the news cycle typically lasted a few hours. Now, immediacy is in even greater demand. The topics covered move from one to the next with more rapidity than ever and the angles quickly become uninteresting. Journalists must constantly reinvent themselves to keep their readers interested. “You can’t sell a story today about the best advice on how to telework better, it’s all been said, we’re already on to the next thing,” offers one freelance journalist as an example. The same goes for news about companies reorganizing their facilities to support the production of medical equipment. “Bauer was one of the first organizations to announce that they were going to make medical visors, so the coverage was important because they communicated quickly. If a competitor had made a similar decision two days later, that organization would not have received the same coverage,” argues another journalist.

Health and science at the forefront

Poor cousins in many publications, scientific articles are gaining popularity. Journalists are looking for news on topics related to the pandemic as well as credible sources to comment on the extensive evidence around it. Researchers and technical experts are becoming even more popular speakers. “Readers are asking for more,” says a journalist.

Relevance and personalization

There’s no shortage of ways to cover a topic. One journalist confides that she no longer watches how the competing media cover a subject while there are stories everywhere. For public relations professionals, honing their approaches and presenting a turnkey offer is becoming more crucial than ever. “I refuse stories that would normally make the headlines,” says a journalist. “The testimony offered has to be exceptional or bring a completely new perspective for me to be interested in it.” So patience and creativity are required.

Eyes on the curve

As long as the contagion progresses, journalists will diligently cover the pandemic. “We are following the curve day by day,” according to a journalist, who added that reaching a plateau and the subsequent decline will open the door to new topics in the news. One journalist points out the lack of sensitivity of some companies or communication firms that offer stories with no connection to the pandemic—and with a commercial ask in the mix. “There is opportunism and clumsiness,” he says. “It’s unfortunate, because it will be remembered and it’s going to end up hurting these organizations.”

Would you like to share your experiences in media relations with us in these times of the coronavirus? Or would you like to share your questions? Contact us, we’d love to hear from you.


Jean-Michel Nahas About the author
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