Local newsrooms have had a tough time during the lockdown. Many papers had to stop their print editions because they could not distribute their copies in cafes and community centres.
Reporting on local issues was also complicated. Although journalists were granted a key worker status, their movement has been restricted. Local authorities closed their physical offices. Reporters had to keep a two-meter distance from their interviewees.
To keep on providing their audience with essential information during the pandemic, some newsrooms tapped into their community of local readers to source stories.
News co-operative The Bristol Cable, for instance, worked with its 2,200 members to gather stories that mattered to them during the pandemic. An example of this is a series of articles on mental health services in Bristol by Matty Edwards and Fatima Hudoon. The Cable also launched a survey to source knowledge and experience of the local community and keep the readers engaged.
Tapping into the collective knowledge has been recently made easier by a new membership-tagging tool - Cable Links - where members can fill in details about their professional and lived-in experiences. This then gives reporters a large database to find relevant sources for stories and allow them to fact-check information.
Alon Aviram, co-founder of The Bristol Cable, said the tool proved useful during the pandemic.
"Increasingly, organisations of all different sizes are turning to readers [and are] trying to build deeper relationships with them.
"This is an opportunity that can create those sort of relationships, which can nurture longer-term support, which is good for revenue-generating purposes, but also feed into better quality content."
The crisis has also changed The Cable’s publishing strategy. To help readers navigate the information about coronavirus, the content was split into public scrutiny reporting, activities of the local authorities and looking at local hospitals. This has allowed the local publisher to be more focused on content that mattered to the community and avoiding flash-in-the-pan reporting.
While many newsrooms were getting used to distributed working, those who already had a remote network of collaborators were thriving during the lockdown.
This was the case of Global Voices, an international community of writers bringing stories from their own countries. According to executive director Ivan Sigal, hardly anything has changed during the pandemic since the virtual network does very little in-person reporting.
"We’re already part of internet culture, we grew out of it," he says, adding that all the tools and strategies were already in place while other news organisations had to undergo dramatic shifts in the way they worked.
This efficient, global collaboration allowed Global Voices to cover the pandemic in about 70 countries, bringing a valuable international perspective.
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