Hearst Connecticut Media Group dedicates editions to exploring life after coronavirus

On Sunday, May 3, Hearst Connecticut Media Group in the US devoted the editions of its eight daily newspapers and websites to a single theme: The Road Ahead: Life After COVID-19.

by Simone Flueckiger | July 5, 2020

The move, which was a first in the group’s history, saw a team of around 200 journalists across the state write dozens of stories spanning multiple coverage areas – from education to the economy and health care to jobs – dedicated to exploring what lies ahead for Connecticut and its residents following the global pandemic.

“We are taking an in-depth look at the lessons learned, the innovation that could lie ahead and the obstacles in front of us,” wrote Wendy Metcalfe, VP of Content & Editor-in-Chief, in a column dedicated to 30-year-old Dan Spano, one of the state’s more than 2,000 coronavirus victims.

“How do we avoid more loss and how do we further honor the lives of thousands in Connecticut, and so many more around the world, who lost theirs?”

The coverage featured more than a dozen of the foremost experts in Connecticut who focused on possible innovations, trends and obstacles in the future, while student journalists from a number of universities wrote the week’s Heart of the Coronavirus Crisis – an eight-page section inside the papers – along with arts and lifestyle features themed on the road ahead.

“It is also the first time in many years that the Sunday newspapers have been so large, requiring the press to overhaul their production schedule and dramatic efforts of multiple departments to make this happen for our readers,” Metcalfe told us in a Q&A (see below).

Additionally, a new web platform was built, along with a major digital effort with Hearst’s premium Insider websites, focusing on “the new normal”.

The complete coverage, including additional stories, complete with data, an in-depth podcast, photos, videos and more, can be found here.

WAN-IFRA: How was it decided to focus on that particular story of 30-year-old Coronavirus victim Dan Spano to set the tone for the initiative?

Wendy Metcalfe: Our goal with The Road Ahead: Life After COVID-19 was to provide readers with an extensive look at what innovation, trends and possible obstacles might lie ahead in the future. I believe a key role of local newspapers is to not only help people better understand the world around them, but to help make life itself better.

By taking an in-depth, vast and forward-thinking look at key areas that matter most to them, I believe we provided a vital reader service at a time of great uncertainty. As for my column, the aim was to set the stage for the edition as it was the opening article on the front page and website. I wanted to anchor the way forward by first honoring the many lives that have been lost. The lives we must never forget.

It was important to me that our coverage helped build a better tomorrow in memory of those who couldn’t be there to experience it. How do we honor them and never let this happen again? The answer was best said by Melissa Castiglia who, after losing her 30-year-old brother Dan Spano following a lost battle with COVID-19, said: ‘We need to be better’. From there, the edition was anchored with her steadfast call that would drive the heart of the entire edition.

We have seen a number of collaborative journalism initiatives during the crisis… Obviously, you were able to tap into your journalists across the different titles, but did this also extend to other newspapers outside of Hearst?

In addition to a large portion of our team – made up of almost 200 editorial staff across the state – working on the project, we felt it was also important to reflect the views of student readers. We invited journalism students from four universities across the state to write a number of thought-provoking articles which filled an eight-page print section, The Heart of the Coronavirus Crisis, on issues that matter the most to them, such as jobs. This content was provided free online for readers.

What was the discussion like around making such a strong commitment to this type of print product and resources during these challenging times?

It took an extensive team effort across the company to make this project a reality. It was made even more special due to the fact that this already busy team – working tirelessly throughout the pandemic – pulled this together from their kitchen tables. It was weeks in the making. Intensive planning went into everything from story ideas and digital planning to print layout and how the press would accommodate the extra large Sunday editions. The eight daily newspapers ended up with the largest editorial sections since 2004!

Could you give a brief overview of your digital subscription model, and how the initiative fits into that?

We have a freemium model. This includes free content and our Insider digital subscription platform, where you will find enterprise work ranging from in-depth investigations, analysis and opinion to interactive features. Hearst Connecticut Media Group is made up of multiple daily and weekly newspapers and websites. During the pandemic, to keep our communities informed of the most urgent coronavirus news, our critical updates online have been free to read.

The Road Ahead: Life After COVID-19 editions appeared in eight daily print newspapers on Sunday, May 3. For online, the majority of the project was available on our Insider platform, with a unique section created and the use of platforms such as social media, newsletters and a webinar. My column and a feature predicting trends were on the free site, along with all of the stories written by university journalism students in The Heart of Coronavirus Crisis section.

Has this type of content helped to drive subscriptions? If so, to what level?

On the day of publication and the following day, we heavily promoted the innovation edition content across our websites, social platforms and newsletters. The vast majority was on our Insider platform. Forty percent of our top 10 stories driving non-subscribers to the paywall on those days were from this project, including pieces about the future of vaccines, grocery shopping habits and the possible decline of jury trials.

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