Telling stories in a pandemic
What’s the first thing your mind turns to every morning. The news? What’s happened overnight? What fresh new circle of hell are we now entering?
Overnight our world has become smaller – we are all confined to a footprint of space bound by four walls. Our horizons have shrunk and our borders made bigger. And yet all we want to know is what is happening out there. We crave news. We want to hear stories of people like us. So we know we are not alone. We are connected.
We transmit our own news minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. On Twitter, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, YouTube, Zoom. We find a way, our own way, to let the world know how we are, what matters to us and why we care.As human beings we are hard-wired to communicate. From cave paintings and hieroglyphics to the town crier and carrier pigeons and now 24-hour rolling news. We tell stories, we can’t help it, we need to make sense of the world around us and our place in it.
COVID-19 has re-set everything. And I do mean everything. When we emerge from our 21st-century caves, the world will have changed and many things will never ever be the same. What will endure is our primal need for news.The irony is – that the industry which produces that news for us – and it is a production process, not a miracle of nature - is facing its toughest challenge yet. An industry that was already fragile and had been decimated by the last 20 years of the internet, how can it withstand the shockwaves of COVID-19?
Hundreds of journalists have been furloughed at a time when we are desperate for news, opinion and analysis. We have time to read and engage with words in a way we never have and probably never will again. This is a time for us to explore big issues and to really dive into a subject and immerse ourselves in understanding.
Advertising budgets have been slashed and sales of print have plummeted and may never recover – this really may be the end of a printed daily newspaper. Print has been in sharp decline for decades now and that trend is clearly not reversible. But they said vinyl was dead, they said ‘video killed the radio star’, they were wrong, I am hopeful.
COVID-19 is making us all slow down. Perhaps it will make us slow down enough to start reading a whole newspaper again and valuing time spent with the physical artefact. Newspapers and getting our news may become a daily ritual that we give importance to again.
What matters is that communication, the creation of news, the dissemination of that news and the consumption of news is stronger than ever and will remain strong long after this horrific and gruelling period in our history has passed. Online subscriptions are increasing and trusted media outlets are seeing sustained increases in traffic.
Of course, COVID-19 headlines dominate the news agenda worldwide, but bubbling under are business as usual stories. And that’s because every company that can, is keeping going. We are now a nation of ‘kitchen table’ entrepreneurs. We know that every minute spent working will help keep the economy moving.
We stagger out of bed, shuffle to the designated office space, sit down and start doing whatever it was we used to do before. Just without the commute, the office banter and the morning pastry. We have adapted to this new normal with dizzying speed. And now our teams are settling into a new rhythm, finding new opportunities and generally keeping the show on the road.
And the news will continue to flow as we do new things, find new ideas, solve new problems. We will want more than ever to tell our story, to make news. From our place of solitude, we will want the world to know what we are doing. This time could be an extraordinary time of invention and creativity, when we are able to pause and think, re-group, re-set, re-imagine, the world we live in.
So. Let’s keep telling stories. And let’s keep buying newspapers.