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Covid-19 Situation Report -- Part I

Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 at 10:41 PM

Top editors tell us how Covid-19 has affected all aspects of their jobs.

By the Editors Only staff

[Editorial Note: We've debated whether to go with COVID-19 or Covid-19 as a style choice. Most media are running the disease name in all caps: COVID-19. Some publications, including Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, along with news outlets Bloomberg and CNN, however, have adopted the initial-cap version (although CNN has been inconsistent). Our staff consensus is that COVID-19 is a little overwhelming to the eye, even if it is the scientifically correct version. We've opted to adopt "Covid-19" for EO style. It is the cleanest-looking option and will serve readers the best, in our view.]

We asked readers how the Covid-19 crisis has affected their publications. Here's what they told us:

Jenn Fiedler, editor, Township Focus

Covid-19 has greatly impacted the way in which we are communicating with our members. Our staple publication, a monthly magazine called Township Focus, has been back-burnered while we shift our attentions to providing near daily updates, guidance, and resources to our member townships, as they continue to serve more than half of Michigan's residents during this time.

We've created new email updates, new video updates, new web resources, increased social media posts, and expanded webinars to provide more immediate information to our members. Trying to figure out how to cover Covid-19 in our magazine -- which will hit mailboxes up to two weeks after any articles have been written -- has been a challenge, as information seems to change on an almost minute-to-minute basis. At the same time, we are offering non-Covid-related information in the magazine as well, so it's not "all Covid all the time."

We have heard from just a few advertisers who fear the impact on their business and wish to pull back on marketing spending. So we are also brainstorming new ways to offer additional exposure, opportunities, and benefits to our advertisers and other vendors who support our association. It has truly been a team effort to come together -- even as we are working apart -- during these past few weeks to ensure we are meeting our member needs. Based on their feedback, they are appreciative of our shifts in focus and our commitment to keeping them on top of the crisis, and the changes that impact our members as a result.

Jayne Haugen Olson, editor-in chief, Mpls.St.Paul magazine

Our May issue had about half of the budgeted revenue. We did not cut our editorial pages. We want to deliver as much editorial as we can. The June issue closes on April 23, and we anticipate the same trend. We are highly dependent on local advertising, and nearly all of our clients are closed (retail, restaurants, arts organizations, health and dental, etc.).

Our quarterly home and design magazine closed a few weeks ago, and was close to budget. As a local magazine, the local builders, remodelers, and designers want to keep up their advertising.

New initiative: Last week we have launched MSPtv and are delivering both live and prerecorded content via our social channels daily. Each day is dedicated to a different content silo -- health and fitness, local music, local thought leaders, restaurants, etc. The goal is three-pronged: All of these local businesses are closed, so we want to allow them the visibility to our audience. As a monthly magazine, we want to use our digital and social channels to be a part of local conversations and provide some service and entertainment to our audiences. And third, we will now approach potential sponsors. Since our event team is not involved in executing any live events, their team is working with editorial on the logistics, posting, providing tips and tricks lists to our guests on how to use the technology, and more.

Jan Ramsey, editor-in-chief, OffBeat magazine

We have stopped publishing our print publication and have gone to an all-digital format for the time being, which means a mindset change from publishing a "monthly" magazine to publishing digital content every day. We've seen about a 90 percent drop in advertising. It's made it harder on us, as we're doing most of the content ourselves and not having freelancers do it as we cannot afford to pay them. God, say a prayer for all of us!

Jef White, executive editor, The Shop magazine

We are a trade magazine for the auto aftermarket. Our in-house editorial team is just my online editor and me. We are both obviously working from home now. We immediately put together messages for our advertisers and readers, asking how this is affecting them and then sharing their status (open, closed, essential, etc.) and stories, along with the important small business information coming in to us from government and other sources. We have a Covid-19 section on the website that is updated daily, and we share those updates and other news in our Monday–Friday e-newsletter.

Meanwhile, my first fully-from-home monthly printed issue of the magazine will include a mix of Covid-19 news from the website; drop-in sidebar updates for some of the longer articles we already had planned for the issue, as appropriate; and some general articles that don't mention the coronavirus at all.

I would suggest that editors continue to make news gathering at this time a two-way street -- ask your readers (and advertisers, if appropriate) more than once for input and stories on what's going on and how they are dealing with things. Obviously there are tons of interesting stories to go with the serious/scary reporting that needs to be done, and I think everyone appreciates a good mix.

Our advertisers for the most part are taking a wait-and-see attitude. None have panicked or dropped everything yet -- it's obviously going to be a while until we all feel the full effects.

Rachel Grabenhofer, managing editor, Cosmetics & Toiletries

We're working from home 100 percent (we had several telecommuters, so it was only a matter of IT getting all the equipment together); weekly video conferences to reconnect with our entire team; a much bigger influx of email to sort through, which is taking 3x as much time as before -- a lot dealing with Covid19 but some not -- and we want to remain relevant but not Covid-19 folks to death with our news -- we try to focus on steps to move forward; added weekly meeting slots for meetings with sales and event planners; also working beyond and outside of regular core hours to fit at-home education into the mix of normal working hours. (Thank god for flexible management; it's appreciated.)

Tips for fellow editors: Be sure if you plan to do more videocasting and podcasting that you have all the services to do so and all the right permissions to make it happen; you kind of need to have the independence to see it all through and some level of flexibility from teammates to let you run with things.

We've seen a drop in advertising to some degree, mainly content like e-blasts pushing people to visit booths at shows that no longer are happening. We're seeing an uptick in all the digital formats (sponsored podcasts, sponsored videos, webinars, newsletter content, paid e-blast pushes).

Name withheld by request

I can't really talk about this for print, and I don't have numbers on advertising. But off the record, ads are down substantially, we are running fewer pages and less color, our staff was already a shadow of its former self, and we are all just doing our best to serve our community while working from home and dealing with rolling furloughs. Nothing positive to share here except great respect for our staff and their work.

Andrew Simpson, chief content officer, Wells Media Group

We are a small, lean company of under 40 employees. Wells Media is publisher of publications for the property/casualty insurance industry including Insurance Journal, Carrier Management, and Claims Journal. Our editorial staff is less than a third of that. We publish three daily digital newsletters and about a half dozen weekly specialty newsletters as well as two print magazines, 24 times and six times a year. We also produce regular video interviews and webinars.

We are fortunate to have an owner and CEO who care and put people first. Just as they did during the Great Recession, they have committed to do everything they can to keep everyone in the company all on the payroll. Just today they announced our first quarter profit-share bonus will be paid per usual.

The bottom line is we can't complain. We are fortunate in many ways. We also happen to serve an industry that is essential and still working, largely remotely. Our web traffic is off the charts. Subscriptions are up. Webinar registrations are exceeding system maximums. We also have an amazing ad sales team that has thus far succeeded in securing most major accounts or placements.

Working from home is not new to us at Wells Media. The entire editorial team of full-time employees has worked remotely for nearly 20 years. We have an office in San Diego, but for decades we have been largely a work-from-home company. We are very experienced with video interviews and Zoom meetings. The company supplies all the equipment and programs we need. So we did not have to make major adjustments.

The other side of this is we are busier than ever. There are multiple insurance issues in this crisis. They include business interruption, workers' compensation, workplace safety, medical liability, employer liability, wrongful terminations, reduced driving, auto insurance discounts, and more. Every day there are court cases and legislation to report at both state and federal levels. Our readers are themselves having to adjust as other small and large businesses have been forced to do, and they are worried that many of their customers may be out of business for good.

The news requirements and feature possibilities are seemingly endless. The volume of calls, emails, and tips is probably triple or quadruple what's normal. The challenge for our content team is being able to sort through it all and focus on what is important to our readers and leave the rest to others. I think everyone in every job is probably having trouble staying focused. It can be frustrating and exhausting. At the same time that more people are reaching out, the more difficult it seems to actually speak with people. More phone calls go unanswered. Many calls to offices are not forwarded to workers at home. Most conversations have to be scheduled. Email seems more important than ever. As a result, it takes longer to complete stories than it used to. But it's all doable.

Our writers, like others working at home, now share their formerly quiet domestic workspaces with their kids and partners. But they don't mind; they get their work done when they can. Editorial team members talk more on the phone with one another than they used to. We have made more of an issue of our team's daily phone call check-ins. The calls seem more important now and while we are still spread out across the country, we feel closer as a team now than ever. And we are busier than ever.

Again, bottom line for us at Wells Media, working at our company, covering this industry, we can't complain at all. We are fortunate.

Bradley Worrell, editor-in-chief, RV PRO magazine

As the coronavirus pandemic spread, my Colorado-based company took the precaution of closing its office in mid-March and mandated that everyone work from home. I totally agreed with that decision.

Still, after multiple weeks of working from home, I miss the daily interaction with my co-workers, I miss working at my work desk with all my things, and I really, really miss getting actual page proofs that I can hold in my hands and mark up with my trusty red pen. In place of that, I am proofing pages by posting virtual "sticky notes" on PDF pages that I view on my small computer screen. It's just not the same thing -- not by a long shot.

Assuming conditions continue to improve, the plan is that our headquarters will re-open in a matter of weeks, and personally, I can't wait to get back into the office.

Lisa Hurley, content director, Special Events magazine

Wish I could comment but we are slammed -- wishing you all good luck.

[More comments to come in the next issue of Editors Only.]

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