Q&A with Chip Minemyer, editor of Johnstown’s Tribune-Democrat

How Pa. news organizations are handling the COVID-19 pandemic

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What you should know
» Coronavirus facts & FAQ
» Day-by-day look at coronavirus disease cases in Pa.
» What the governor’s stay-at-home order means

The coronavirus epidemic has upended daily lives across Pennsylvania and the world. For many, there’s a growing need for news about the virus and how public officials, businesses and community groups are responding.

As a result, the role of media – local journalism in particular – is made even more important.

To get a sense for how news organizations across Pennsylvania are responding to the outbreak, PA Post is reaching out to newsroom leaders.

Chip Minemyer is the editor at The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pa. and CNHI regional editor for Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio.

We spoke with Chip Minemyer, the editor of The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown and CNHI regional editor for Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio.

The Q&A below has been edited lightly for clarity:

PA Post: How has the coronavirus epidemic changed your news coverage?

Minemyer: Coronavirus has taken over all local budgets on a day-to-day basis. Reporters pick off angles that are relevant to their beats whether that be health care, education, business, police/fire, sports or local government. Each reporter has become a COVID-19 reporter in whatever area they were already covering specifically. We adjusted some duties, and everyone has really become a flexible journalist in the newsroom during this time.

Have you been able to work remotely?

Almost all of our staff is working from home. There are still some page producers in the building and management is still overseeing operations from the building on a fairly regular basis. Reporting remotely requires a different level of diligence in terms of coordination and management, but for the safety of the staff it is necessary.

Has your company experienced layoffs or furloughs?

We have not yet, and I am knocking on wood as I say that. It has not been a great time for newspapers – any media company – from an advertising standpoint.  We can’t live forever on the track we’re on, but so far, we’ve been fortunate.

We were already doing a lot of great things from a budget perspective on the readership and advertising side – we were having a good year prior to the coronavirus, which has helped us navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.

What has the response from your community been to your coverage?

Digital readership exploded in March and has stayed strong – we were at 2-3 times our normal readership for weeks at a time. It has since dropped back a little bit, but we are still well above the pace where we were a year ago. We’ve received many letters from readers that are grateful to still receive a print product every day allowing them to have an additional connection point with the outside world.

We are starting to see some coronavirus fatigue from readers, so we are also making sure to highlight and share positive stories from the region in addition to the data driven coverage.

How are you engaging the with community during this time?

Engagement from a community perspective has really increased. We have to be part of it, we can’t just stand around and watch it happen. We’re taking questions from the community to help readers understand the coronavirus better and where they fit into the landscape of the disease.

We’re seeing a huge increase in interaction between readers across social media platforms. A local photographer is taking photos of residents on their porches and we are publishing those photos in a gallery which has received a great response.

How do you anticipate coronavirus coverage to pivot to election coverage?

Moving toward November, we know that coronavirus isn’t going away and we plan to address issues that will matter after coronavirus has ceded somewhat.  We anticipate there to be a lot of dialogue about how different organizations and individuals have handled leadership roles with coronavirus. I’m sure that will play a big part in people’s decisions at the polls. I hope we can get to some other issues, but that’s going to be tricky.

What have you done to manage stress personally and for your team?

The pressure to continually be updating and managing digital products was always there – it’s just there in a much higher degree now. We’re rotating weekend and overnight shifts to allow time for everyone to take a step back and recharge and ensuring that staff is taking days off.

I talk to my team a lot and ensure that the line of communication stays open; I encourage them to take a break or hand off a project if they are feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t seen a lot of stress concerns at this point; I think journalists tend to rise to the challenge. You can’t go from a sprint to a marathon and maintain that forever, but for the time period that we’re in, everyone has really stepped up.

Interview conducted by Kate Landis.

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