COVID Changes Our Go-To Sources for News and Where Firms Target Outreach

The true lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unknown, but what we do know is that the virus is reshaping all aspects of our lives for the immediate future. “Overtourism” to popular international destinations used to be a concern for locals hurt by congestion from a massive influx of visitors. Now travel experts say that COVID might ease the problem as most travel for the next few years will happen domestically.

Travel isn’t the only thing that’s changing – our buying habits (what we buy, where we buy), and our work and study habits, as well as where we seek out news and information due to our states’ stay-at-home orders. We are seeing shifts in what people are, and will be able to use in the future, as sources of information for the pandemic, as well as other news – sports, health, economics, and lifestyle.

As our platforms for news – TV, online news, social media, newspapers, and podcasts – evolve, so does a PR firms’ or an advertising firm’s ability to reach their audiences.

Television is still a major source of information for people following COVID-19 – 51 percent of people said they get their news from TV according to a recent poll by HarrisX, a telecom company.

That’s great if you’re an advertising firm with clients that have some budget, but through the course of the pandemic, businesses have been slashing marketing budgets to conserve cash.

The HarrisX poll also found: 

  • Twenty four percent said they access the internet for news; 
  • Twelve percent said the utilize social media; 
  • Four percent said through chats; and  
  • Three percent said their source of info was newspapers.

If we actually combine the internet and social media categories to represent all sources online, we hit 36 percent.

The reason for this combination is to compare the change from 2018, when the Pew Research Center found that 34 percent of people prefer to get their news (any news) online. This represents a two percent increase.

This shouldn’t be surprising considering there has been an upward trend in “overuse” of social media platforms over the past few years, and several tech companies have tried to curbs its growth.

But now, being in the midst of a pandemic, online use has grown. New data from Nielsen, and graphed by Axios, during the pandemic shows a five percent increase in social media app usage since mid-March, which is up from 20 percent prior to the pandemic.

There were also slight increases in app usage for Video, Productivity and Communication, while usage for Lifestyle apps decreased slightly – most likely due to availability of at-home computers and laptops.

If you’re looking to reach people, but need to use dollars wisely during the pandemic, putting money towards online outreach could provide the best Return on Investment for clientsIt could be safe to assume that as the pandemic continues, so will peoples’ attention towards online news sources and social media.

Comparativelyutilizing digital outreach can yield more bang for your buck and reach a growing audience. 

Hardcopy newspapers, however, maybe not so much.

The HarrisX poll highlighted a continued downward trend in newspapers as a source of news. In 2018, Pew found that seven percent of people received their news from a daily paper, while the HarrisX poll showed a four percent drop.

That downward shift in newspapers, combined with the pandemic, will also result in a lasting impact on local newspaper organizations and our ability get read localized news – whether in hard copy or online. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that 80 percent, or even more, of the U.S. newspaper industry, by circulation, is not eligible for small-business loans from the federal government. The loans are set up to help businesses keep people employed during the pandemic, but due to the way their companies are setup, they’re ineligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, according to data from the Alliance for Audited Media.

As a result, we may see a high percentage of local papers layoff staff, or even close, if they are not able to receive financial support.

One platform that is seeing a unique level of higher demand is the podcast – despite weekly commutes having significantly decreased.

According to Podtrac, weekly downloads since the first week of January (year-to-date) are up 20 percent, and weekly audience is up four percent through the week ending April 19, 2020 across all Podtrac measured podcasts.

With the boom in podcast downloads since the pandemic began, Apple has made a move to push additional news and information regarding COVID-19. The company’s editorial staff started recommending new collections and shows inside of the News category within Apple Podcasts. The new feature will offer listeners updates on COVID-19.

All of this rapid change is going to affect marketing budgets as well. Investing in the high-value modes that bring the most significant return on investment will help ensure the messages get through. The basic rule of thumb is the same as ever:  go where the people are going for their news.  


For additional information and guidance for communicating during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit Xenophon’s COVID-19 Crisis Response Team webpage at:

Getting Back to Work is an ongoing series on health and safety regarding COVID-19 from Xenophon Strategies, in partnership with Dr. David Hamer, a professor at the Boston University Schools of Public Health and Medicine with more than 30 years of experience in epidemiological diseases. Through the partnership Xenophon is working with Dr. Hamer to provide science-based recommendations and guidance on how employers, employees, and families should best respond to and combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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