• David Huppert

Covering COVID-19: How PA Media is Keeping the Public Informed


Tensions are high in Pennsylvania these days.

Some residents want Gov. Tom Wolf to loosen COVID-related restrictions. Others insist that we remain cautious to ensure minimal viral spread.

Local media across the commonwealth are covering these tensions and informing Pennsylvanians about the disease, government decisions and economic implications.

Ceisler Media veteran Keegan Gibson of our Pittsburgh office says the virus has not infected enormous numbers of people in Western PA. But with a generally older population, the area is highly cautious.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette launched a centralized platform for information on its “COVID-19 Latest News” website. The platform provides constant updates on issues related to COVID, its economic impact, and government decision-making.

The site is user friendly and visually compelling, with a county-by-county map showing the intensity of the outbreak across Pennsylvania. Lower down on the page, users can find a “good neighbors” section with uplifting stories about ways Pittsburghers are helping one another. The site also has a sidebar devoted to the latest news on COVID treatment and vaccine research, hitting on an important part of Pittsburgh’s medical identity.

Gibson says the area maintains a civic pride about its history of polio eradication. It was at the University of Pittsburgh that Jonas Salk developed his flu vaccine in the early 1950s.

The pandemic has also given local specialized platforms like technical.ly the opportunity to tell the story of potentially life-saving research. A profile of a University Pittsburgh physician working on a vaccine to tame COVID was underwritten by the Pittsburgh Innovation District, which has a year-long editorial series on developments in the city.

These are tough times for every industry, especially local media. With revenue streams down, news organizations like the Tribune Live and the Post-Gazette have had to let some staff go.

In mid-May it was announced that the Post-Gazette will cut 24 employees from its newsroom – a 20 percent reduction in editorial staff. According to the Pittsburgh Current, this will include laying off two local news reporters, two business writers, five features writers, two editorial staff, five sports reporters, four photographers, two digital staff, and two from the copy desk.

This is a painful reminder of the dire need to support local journalism.

Despite the challenges, Pittsburgh coverage has highlighted local heroism, with stories about how local people are stepping up to serve. The Tribune Live’s coverage of COVID-related medical research has sparked hope in a trying time.

Over recent weeks, new questions have emerged.

When will the region open up? Will the state separate nursing home fatality counts from counts among the broader population? Would the Governor base county-by-county reopening decisions upon that distinction?

Counties like Beaver and Huntington have seen most of their outbreaks restricted to congregant care facilities like a nursing home or jail. Many in these counties don’t want to be beholden to what goes on inside such facilities.

In the Harrisburg area, The Patriot News and PennLive are posting free COVID-related content as a public service.

Ceisler Media Senior Associate Courtney Accurti of our Harrisburg office believes that partnerships across media organizations with Spotlight PA are serving the state well. In this way, information that is relevant statewide can find readers throughout Pennsylvania.

“The best situation is for people to have better awareness of how our elected leaders are trying to best represent their constituencies and their parties moving through this,” said Accurti. ”Because there are some very different perspectives.”

Every few weeks, Harrisburg sees the gathering of protestors calling for the reopening of the economy at the state capitol. The city has tried to set up blockages to prevent rallying. PennLive, true to its name, has covered the protests live.

PennLive also recently reported that Pennsylvania will soon release the infection counts at nursing homes and specify those facilities. That is sure to be a big story, and may motivate some Pennsylvanians to advocate for faster reopening of the state out of the belief that their immediate surroundings are more secure than congregant care facilities.

In mid-May Gov. Wolf announced 12 more counties that will move into the yellow phase, with fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days. Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York will begin to reopen May 22.

Watch for continued reporting from local media sources on the disease, government decisions, political implications and vaccine research.

Support local journalism if you can. There is no better time to subscribe to your local publication given that our collective health and future is being tested as never before.

David Huppert is an Associate in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia Office.

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