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How Journalists Rose to the Occasion in 2020

By Kristen Dunleavy

From reporting on a rapidly evolving pandemic to stopping the spread of misinformation, 2020 presented a seemingly endless list of new challenges for journalists. 

And they didn’t simply weather the storm—we witnessed countless examples of incredible reporting, collaboration, and innovation worldwide. These are just a few of the ways that journalists rose to the occasion in 2020.

Journalists joined forces to report on COVID-19

In the early days of the pandemic, journalists knew they would need to work together in order to successfully serve the public accurate, up-to-date information about COVID-19—or risk the very real possibility of psychological distress brought on by a never ending news cycle.

In Oregon, for example, it became clear that no single newsroom could shoulder the weight of delivering all of the COVID-19 news all of the time. Newsrooms across the state created a pact to share information with each other in an effort to cover more angles and avoid re-reporting the same information. 

The Atlantic took journalistic collaboration to new heights with the COVID Tracking Project, an effort to showcase the most complete COVID-19 data in the US. Journalists, scientists, medical professionals, and universities all came together to develop the project that provides comprehensive, up-to-date data on cases, including a racial data tracker that examines how COVID-19 impacts marginalized communities. 

Local newsrooms got creative

Facing a tough year for local news outlets, more newsrooms have gotten creative by exploring new opportunities to drive long-term, sustained growth.

Many for-profit news organizations have turned to community fundraising for support. The COVID-19 Local News Fund is working with nearly 200 local news outlets to drive donations in an effort to stay afloat while boosting COVID-19 news coverage. Other news organizations, like the Salt Lake Tribune, have transitioned to nonprofit status to continue serving their communities.

Offering premium content to readers is another way local news outlets are growing revenue. For instance, the Chicago Reader released a limited-edition coloring book featuring local artists that raised more than $40,000. Pittsburgh-based media outlet Postindustrial is leveraging Kickstarter to promote subscriptions to their newsletter that focuses on stories about resilience amidst COVID-19 in Appalachia. 

Other local newsrooms are finding ways to expand their audience by experimenting with new formats. The Las Vegas Review-Journal launched a podcast series about the history of organized crime in the city. They saw a huge boost in visibility, debuting at No.11 on Apple’s True Crime chart during its launch week.

Fact-checkers of the world united

Stopping the spread of misinformation was top of mind for journalists in 2020, especially as it related to the pandemic. From Google’s COVID-19 vaccine media hub to new initiatives designed specifically for stopping misinformation in its tracks, everyone doubled-down on fact-checking efforts this year.

In 2020, the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance became one of the leading sources of information… on misinformation. The alliance has brought together 100+ fact-checkers in publishing to debunk myths and translate new facts about the pandemic into 40+ languages for global audiences, making it the largest project of its kind in the fact-checking world. 

Language barriers have been a challenge for certain communities when it comes to getting accurate news about COVID-19. The hosts of Radio Indigena, who disseminate the news in Spanish, Mixteco, and other indigenous languages, regularly debunk misinformation about COVID-19 for audiences that wouldn’t otherwise have access to such information.

Rising to the occasion in 2021

2020 wasn’t an easy year by any stretch of the imagination—and yet journalists persevered, with many going above and beyond to serve their communities. 2021 will likely present many of the same challenges, but if this year has been any indicator, we are confident that journalists will rise to the occasion once again. 

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