While the size of their newspapers differs, two publishers in Mississippi agree: the post-pandemic newsroom will focus more online, less on print.
“From my perspective – that of a small-town newspaper editor – I have seen a greater emphasis on developing, maintaining and building a stronger online presence,” said Clay McFerrin, editor, and publisher of the Sun-Sentinel in Charleston, which publishes on Thursdays and employs two full-time staff members and one part-time staff member.
“Our company is beefing up and expanding our website capabilities on a scale not seen here before. Even before the pandemic, single-copy sales were down considerably, but the shutdown of the economy made the website, and mail subscriptions, our best means of keeping our readers informed,” said McFerrin.
Wyatt Emmerich, the publisher of the Northside Sun — a weekly newspaper that covers north Jackson — succinctly states the post-pandemic future of the newsroom.
“More online, more virtual, more smartphone, less print,” said Emmerich, who is also president of Emmerich Newspapers, with 280 employees and more than 20 newspapers in Mississippi, including in McComb, Greenville, and Greenwood.
Emmerich and McFerrin both said their reporters experienced difficulty in covering government during the height of the pandemic and had to adapt using technology.
“It was hard covering a lot of our regular beats because city councils and boards of supervisors were not having real meetings,” Emmerich said. “We quickly adapted and learned how to use Zoom and other conferencing software.”
McFerrin agreed on that and he too had to use new methods of communication.
“Considering we have one editorial writer, yours truly, I would say the only change has been in how we conduct interviews and gather information. We have had limited access to some local government offices, so we have been forced to find some workarounds through email, the internet, etc.,” added McFerrin.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 100 small newsrooms in the U.S. closed; however, the surviving newsrooms have learned valuable lessons.
“Maybe this year of crisis has taught us things we needed to learn and relearn,” said Jacqui Banaszynski in the opinion piece “The Newsroom is Dead. Long Live the Newsroom!” in Nieman Reports.“Publishers had to get clear about the primacy of digital.”
Thanks to the pandemic, journalists now understand the importance of creating original digital and social content, according to the article “Envisioning the post-pandemic newsroom” in the Knight-Cronkite News Lab.
“As the digital director, I’m always trying to get reporters to think digital-first, and producers to think digital-first. I don’t have to make that case at all anymore,” said Denise Polverine of WKYC in Cleveland, Ohio.
As digital news becomes more important, investments in technology are necessary to make it happen,” McFerrin continued.
“The post-pandemic reality is that while the print edition remains at the core of our identity, digital has become much larger than it was before,” he said.