How The News Minute is using Covid-19 to better understand its audiences

What we learned from India's TNM.

Takeaways

  • Dedicated Covid-19 reporting in South India has helped shape an emerging membership model
  • Remote teams require tailored organization to report around the clock
  • While staying home and reporting from online sources, it’s important to be wary of fake news

Context

The News Minute, a media startup covering the five states of South India, distinguishes itself with regional-level reporting intended for the national stage. This focus has proven beneficial while reporting on Covid-19 as TNM seeks to understand the audiences that might pay for the membership model it plans to roll out. 

“Because of our amazing work with coronavirus and tracking the whole thing recently, we’ve had a lot of emails coming in already saying — do you have a membership model?” explained Ramanathan S, who leads operations.

 

Reporting on Covid-19

When we spoke to Ram, India’s Covid-19 cases were still small in number compared to the rest of the world. TNM, which makes some of its money from branded content, is yet to see a drop in revenue. “Business has increased for us… a few brands want to communicate with us during this time as well so there is a lot of work happening out there,” he said

Yet, Ramanathan emphasizes they’re being wary. TNM is using this time to think through its plans for a membership model, which he explains will engage specific subsections within the community (TNM’s central stories are still meant for mass audiences). 

Careful reporting on the pandemic in South India has helped highlight sets of people who might pay for more dedicated news. But as they’ve built out Covid-19 reporting, they’ve also ranked the safety of reporters high. “As far as staff protection is concerned, it’s a simple one-line brief — don’t go out anywhere,” said Ram. This is how they’ve adjusted their workflows:

  • They’ve shut down offices, encourage as much reporting as possible digitally and through phones, and are paying internet and phone bills
  • Teams are scheduled on shifts to cover the evolving Covid-19 story around the clock, and editing and fact-checking processes allow pieces to go out at any time

Researching news online often comes with the threat of fake news, and an additional layer of complexity comes from fake news in regional languages. “We can’t fight every piece of fake news out there,” explained Ram. Instead, they track the stories that go viral and debunk them if they’re fake. In addition, each journalist is in local language Twitter and WhatsApp groups to track emerging stories.

Meghna is a writer in New York. Previously, she helped launch and was the managing editor of New York-based The Juggernaut, worked as a researcher at CB Insights, and reported on tech out of Bangalore for Tech in Asia. Follow Meghna Rao on Twitter.

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