Covering Coronavirus: Tips, best practices and programs

Here’s a quick resource for business trends when you need a deep dive

When POLITICO wanted to draw attention in its “Morning Education” newsletter to a story about colleges helping vulnerable students during the COVID-19 outbreak, it linked to Education Dive. When the Charlotte Observer wrote about virus protections at grocery stores, it linked to Grocery Dive. And when NPR did a story on senior hours at retail stores, it provided a link to Retail Dive.

These are three of 20 publications from Industry Dive that track a range of sectors from banking to restaurants, from retail to waste management. In the midst of the pandemic, the granular detail that Industry Dive’s reporters are gathering for their readers can be a trove of data, story ideas, and advance warning signs for journalists covering the impact of the outbreak across all sectors of business.

“We’re seeing a black swan event that’s causing seismic change in every sector we cover,” Industry Dive’s editor in chief, Davide Savenije said. “Some changes may last for the duration of the pandemic, and some may last after this is all ‘over.’ ”

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That means local and national reporters looking to become experts on multiple fronts in a short period of time.

“A local journalist may not have the time to go deep and immerse themselves on a beat in order to understand all the nuances at play,” Savenije said. “We can be a resource for them in those situations.” 

This Q&A is based on email exchanges with Savenije and an interview on Google Hangout.

You do incredibly granular work on a vast range of industries. When did the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic become evident to your trackers? What were the signs you first saw?

Savenije: The manufacturing and supply chain impacts were very clear early on from China. … It was at some point in mid- to late January when we really started to get a sense about how big of an impact it was going to have, at least on China. By mid-February, we had a pretty decent sense that it was going to impact all of our industries. …

In every industry, we are seeing an extraordinary level of uncertainty, which makes forecasting and planning very challenging for companies. We are seeing many companies in different sectors projecting or already experiencing much lower revenue, much lower demand, supply disruptions, changing work and operational policies, cost cutting, layoffs/furloughs, and in many cases, complete closures entirely. 

Sensing that potential impact, what did you change in the way you mined for data and what data you mined for?

Savenije: 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.

You collect data on everything from retail practices to clinical trials. Tell me how your data can be of help to national and local journalists?

Savenije: Our data is particularly beneficial if you are either local or national journalist covering a specific business beat: if you’re covering education or if you’re covering bio-pharmaceuticals or if you’re covering retail or groceries or restaurants. Our data is going to give people a kind of wide-angle lens view of what’s going on in that sector and then be able to zoom in on specific developments, specific companies and see how it’s impacting them.

It’s a big challenge for general assignment reporters in particular or any reporter who has to cross over and doesn’t have the opportunity to go as in-depth, build as many sources and build up the context and the knowledge and expertise that you need to actually report and write a story with depth, with real nuance.

It’s really, really tough these days in newsrooms that have shrunk and are being asked to continue to do as much or more during this coronavirus story. … We can provide that baseline knowledge, that baseline information that helps get you up to speed very, very quickly.

Does not having a paywall give you a particular advantage right now?

Savenije: I think it does. Just having freely accessible information is a point of differentiation.  A lot of B2B companies are part paywall or full paywall. …There’s certainly a place for having a subscription model. But I think in a case like this, where this is a public health emergency where people really need information, it also puts publications with subscriptions in a really tough spot. Do they offer their most valuable coverage for free, or find a way to message to the reader that they shouldn’t have to offer it for free. That’s a tough spot I’m grateful that we don’t have to be in.