Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — Americans support local news relief in Coronavirus era

TODD SMITH — Americans support local news relief in Coronavirus era


The meltdown of the economy in the wake of the coronavirus is slamming an already trampled financial chapter for local news organizations – especially local newspapers.

While Americans are not overly concerned about the effect of the downturn on local news in their area, they do support financial assistance for local news organizations as part of COVID-19 relief legislation. At a time when Americans are paying increased attention to local news and acknowledge its importance in providing information in a time of crisis, they are unlikely to indicate a willingness to personally pay for news if they are not currently doing so, according to a recent Gallup/Knight Foundation survey focused on the coronavirus situation, part of Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative. They are also no more likely than a year ago to view local news as a public good that should be supported, even if it can’t sustain itself financially.

The survey took place April 14-20.


Americans Favor Local News Financial Assistance

Americans support directing federal money to local news organizations as part of coronavirus relief efforts, something that has bipartisan congressional support. Sixty-five percent are in favor of including money to help local news organizations in coronavirus relief aid, while 34% are opposed. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats, 60% of independents and 43% of Republicans favor federal assistance to local news organizations.

However, funding local news is a much lower priority for Americans than providing support for local businesses or individuals affected by the coronavirus situation. When asked how they would allocate a hypothetical $10 million of government relief to their local community among four possible groups, on average, they would give 40% to local residents who lost their job, 34% to local stores/restaurants/businesses, 17% to local charities and 9% to local news organizations.

Although 9% is a small proportion to devote to local news, the fact that Americans are willing to support it on any level could be seen as a positive sign –especially considering the other competing needs in one’s community and the amount of money needed to adequately address those.

As might be expected, those who say they favor devoting some COVID-19 relief funds to local news organizations are willing to dedicate a higher proportion of the hypothetical $10 million to local news organizations (11%, on average) than are those who oppose such efforts (3%, on average).

The coronavirus situation — and the resulting increase in news attention — has not prompted a shift in Americans’ attitudes about whether local news constitutes a public good that should be funded for the benefit of the community. They remain divided on whether local newspapers should be viewed as any other business that should be allowed to fail if it can’t sustain itself financially, or as a vital resource that should be preserved.


Social Media Sees Boost in Engagement

More time spent at home during the pandemic means more time being spent on social media, according to a new according to an eMarketer forecast.

But not all social platforms are benefitting in the same way. In the latest forecast on time spent with media in the US, eMarketer expects adult social network users to log an average of 1 hour, 22 minutes (1:22) per day in 2020, up nearly 7 minutes over last year.

For this forecast, eMarketer estimated total social network time spent among adult users, which includes breakouts for adult users of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Compared with the previous forecast in Q4 2019, projections have increased for overall social network usage in 2020, plus increased estimates for the three platforms. The forecast had time spent by social network users growing by only 6 seconds – but the new forecast now shows an unexpected bump in engagement for 2020. This will be the first year of positive growth in time spent among U.S. social users since 2017.



Instagram will see the biggest percentage increase in time spent by users this year, compared with Facebook and Snapchat. Daily time among adult Instagram users will jump 13.8% this year to nearly 30 minutes per day. That’s an increase of almost 4 minutes over last year. We previously estimated daily time among users to increase by just 24 seconds this year.



Snapchat is a close second when it comes to increased engagement among users. While it’s partly due to COVID-19, Snapchat was already seeing increased time spent with AR lenses, as well as original shows and other content on the Discover page. This year, daily time spent among adult Snapchat users will grow 12.0% to 29.5 minutes per day, a jump of 3 minutes over 2019. Our previous estimates had Snapchat adding just 30 seconds per day this year among adult users.



Facebook (excluding Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp) will benefit the least from the 2020 bump, adding 1.4 minutes per day among adult users, bringing average daily usage to just over 34 minutes per day. Previous estimates had Facebook losing 42 seconds among adult users in 2020.

As stay-at-home orders slowly lift, we expect total social time among users to drop slightly going into 2021, but it will remain above 2019 levels. Some of the increased time on social networks will stick around, driven by TikTok, Instagram Live, Snap Originals and other Discover content.


Twitter Launches Labels, Warnings on COVID-19 Misinformation

Twitter will add labels and warning messages on some tweets with disputed or misleading information about COVID-19, the company recently announced, part of a new approach to misinformation that will eventually extend to other topics.

Twitter’s new labels will provide links to more information in cases where the risk of harm from the tweet is not severe enough to be removed but people could be confused or misled, Twitter said in a blog post.

The company said that depending on the propensity for harm and type of misleading information in the tweet, warnings may also be added to say the tweet conflicts with guidance from public health experts before a user views it.

Twitter said these labels, which will look similar to ones launched to flag synthetic and manipulated media, will also apply to tweets that have been sent before Twitter’s announcement and will be used regardless of who sent the tweet.

Social media sites, including Facebook and YouTube, the video service of Google, are under pressure to combat misinformation that has spread on their platforms about the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the new virus.

Such false claims have ranged from bogus cures to misinformation linking the virus with conspiracy theories about high-profile figures such as Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates or about 5G mobile phone technology.

Social media giant Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners, which include Reuters, rate and debunk viral content on the site with labels and last month, YouTube said it would also start showing information panels with third-party, fact-checked articles for U.S. video search results.

Twitter’s labels will link to a Twitter-curated page or external trusted source containing additional information.

Twitter said it would not take action on tweets with information unconfirmed at the time of sharing, but it could place warnings or labels on disputed claims, as well as those confirmed as false.



» TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, follow him @spinsurgeon and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedInhttp://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners.


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