Our View | Newspapering in a Pandemic

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By The Signal Editorial Board

Over the past few weeks, if you look at social media you will find a small but vocal group of people accusing the media of unnecessarily causing a panic, or making up numbers and sensationalizing for clickbait to make money. This certainly does happen in some newsrooms, but not ours.

The reality couldn’t be further from the truth in our newsroom — which, of course, is more of a virtual newsroom right now, with our news staff working almost exclusively from home. We cover the news we think is important to our community, and we do not hype something for the sake of “ratings” or clickbait.

In fact, you won’t find photos of empty grocery store shelves in our news pages or website — we never hyped these images the way other media did. Yes, some media did so in the beginning, before the stay-at-home order started, causing a panic and shortages of toilet paper, water, sanitizer and food.

It exacerbated the problem. But hey, it got ratings. It got clicks. So it’s OK, right? Wrong.

We’ve also heard no small measure of media-blaming in areas where it’s not deserved. For example, we often hear, “Why don’t you tell us the numbers of people recovering instead of the confirmed numbers of new cases?”

We would love to tell you the number of people recovering if that was available to us. When people get sick, they check into the hospital or are told to go home and quarantine. When they get discharged from the hospital they are still recovering, but not sick enough to be in the hospital, so they are not “recovered” yet, and the hospitals don’t keep track of them anymore. We all know the vast number of people who contract the coronavirus recover, but we will not make up a number. 

We will only report numbers that come from county or local government, or medical officials. 

On the other end of the spectrum we get accused of lying and not reporting the true number of cases in the Santa Clarita Valley, and there’s been speculation that the numbers are much higher than what we are reporting.

Again, we will only report confirmed numbers that come from the county or local government. We do not guess at how many people have been infected.

We are all in this together and we will get through this together as this scourge will pass, hopefully very soon. The good news is this pandemic has brought us together, as a nation and a community. We have been overjoyed at how many positive stories and acts of kindness we have heard, neighbor helping neighbor, and of first responders and health care workers risking their lives to save others. Over the past three weeks we have tried to bring these stories to you, and we encourage you to send them to us so we may tell all our readers about them.

Then there’s our own reality. 

The news business was a challenging one before the pandemic. Most of our revenue comes from advertising. The economy’s screeching halt sent sales plummeting for many businesses.

We have lost 90% of our revenue due to cancelled advertising. We are not a massive corporation — we are a local, family-owned business, like many of those we serve, so this is challenging.

Yet, readers’ interest in news and information about the COVID-19 crisis is high, and we try to meet those needs each day. We experienced historic readership in March, up 200% in page views on our website, and we will approach 5 million page views in April. We have kept our site free to the public, as The Signal always has.

Local newspapers and news websites are shutting down all over the country, but we have added features during the pandemic to try to help our community. We have a free page for open businesses to list their names, contact information and a few lines of any specials they may be running. We have a free interactive map where local restaurants can let the public know they are open for take-out or delivery. We have a page where local businesses can list job openings for free during the pandemic. We have added Spanish stories for the monolingual Spanish-speaking community to get the vital information they need during this crisis, and we added a weekly spotlight on acts of kindness to augment our daily good news stories.

Lastly, we thank subscribers and advertisers who understand journalism is not free. It’s a business, with the same challenges as many others, and providing the news and information the community needs has its own costs. 

It’s been said that a good newspaper supports its community, and vice versa. That’s hit home for us during this crisis, more than ever.

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