5 takeaways from What Do Local Journalists Need To Cover COVID-19?

Chelsea Cirruzzo, (@chelseacirruzzo), a volunteer with the ONA Resource Team, compiled these key moments from the ONA20 session on Oct. 15, 2020. To view a recording of the session, register for on-demand access to the ONA20 archive. Session participants included:


  • Ryan Pitts, Program lead for technology, OpenNews
  • Cheryl Phillips, Hearst Professional in Residence/Director, Big Local News, Stanford University-Big Local News

5 key takeaways:

  1. OpenNews connected developers and designers with journalists to work on open technologies and processes within journalism. They’re currently working with Big Local News which is designed to help journalism share data and collaborate on projects. The goals of the collaborative project are: Documentation, sharing every step with reporters, with an immediate focus on housing and schools, and finally getting to stories by partnering with local newsrooms and sharing guides for impact.
  2. OpenNews surveyed local journalists to find out what they need to be better at reporting on COVID-19. The takeaways included: Communities were asking local reporters how to move safely during this time. They wanted up-to-date information and to know if schools are safe.
  3. Journalists, however, said they didn’t have enough data for the stories they wanted to do because data is missing, could be corrupt, or because there’s little transparency from government agencies, which makes it difficult for people to do the deep dives they want to do. People also talked about wanting to do stories on underrepresented and under-discussed populations, including people experiencing homelessness and people who are incarcerated.
  4. Other takeaways from the survey included the stories journalists want to tell, including: Decisions being made behind school policies, COVID-19’s impact on communities of color, what’s happening inside hospitals and nursing homes, and how many people are following health guidance. There are also considerations newsrooms can take, including: Are we harming readers, how are people coping with the pandemic and reporting, and how can we collaborate?
  5. Big Local News is focused on building tools related specifically to housing and schools currently. They’re currently gathering data and information and are working on standardizing it for use by various newsrooms. They’re also currently scraping layoff notices. They’re putting that information into a big open project and their next step will be to standardize it across industry. “That data is available,” Phillips said.

Memorable/tweetable quotes:

  • “Journalists are also experiencing the pandemic as human beings … it can be really hard to be connected. It’s something for us to be active on as managers and peers.” —Cheryl Phillips
  • Cheryl Phillips, on the survey revealing communities wanted more news translated into languages the communities spoke, including Spanish: “That’s critical information and as journalists something we can work on right now,”

Links to additional resources