Tom Mullen

How will journalism survive COVID-19?

July 17, 2020


The pandemic has uprooted how the world conducts business. We asked five faculty members for their thoughts on areas ranging from the economy to the state of journalism to judicial impacts. So far, we’ve heard from faculty about the economy, judicial system, and leadership. In this issue, Tom Mullen, director of public affairs journalism and a veteran editor and reporter, discusses the state of journalism.

How would you describe the media reporting of the pandemic?

Mainstream media reporting has been superb overall, with better performance from print-based outlets such as The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal than some of the broadcast outlets. This is a particularly challenging environment for reporters seeking the truth when various segments of government seem determined to hide the truth or mislead people.

With businesses closed, advertising is almost non-existent. What does this mean for media outlets, particularly newspapers?

Media outlets are starting to develop different revenue sources. Advertising will still be important, but new ways of income may include foundation support, higher subscription prices and content-sharing fees. Some consumers pay more for specialty coffee than they do for most news subscriptions, so it’s time for news executives to show how essential their products are to keep the public informed.

Local reporting struggled before the pandemic. What’s the prospect going forward? How will people get local news in the future?

Local news continues to be essential to the life of an informed community. I see opportunities for what’s called micro-journalism, where smaller outlets cover neighborhoods, schools and ground-level community news while also partnering with either larger regional news groups or journalism organizations such as the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism. Our students have already produced two projects with that center and it’s been widely distributed through the state.

Do students still want to be reporters? Will there be a place for them to do so?

Students still want to be reporters, to be the truth-tellers that help democracy flourish. Of course, the market is tough now, but there are places for them to do that, at small news outlets, at non-profit journalism centers, through specialty newsletters that cover specific industries, television stations and yes, even at large news operations. Our alumni in journalism have thrived and they have shared their enthusiasm with our students.