Across the world media consumers are flocking to established news sites to get the latest information on the coronavirus as infection rates soar and governments change their policies daily.
The result has been huge increases in readership and viewing numbers, with a rising tide lifting all boats – although consumers may well want to read the fine print on subscription offers as companies seek to lock in those eyeballs for the future.
Australia’s News Corp this week announced it will provide free access to pandemic stories and provide free 28-day subscriptions to new digital metro and news apps.
The Nine network had already been offering its live blogs, with most virus stories as a free service.
Other longer stories on the pandemic have remained behind a paywall.
News Corp has been heavily spruiking its offer of health-related stories for free on its cable television service SkyNews, including extended interviews with the editors of some of its leading mastheads.
However, one thing missing in those entreaties from the fearless editors was the reality that the free subscription reverts to the usual masthead fee after the introductory period.
In selling the marketing offer, News Corp Australia chief executive Michael Miller claimed his company’s “responsibility is as clear as it is big, to keep the public informed and adapt to COVID-19’s profound impact on Australia and the communities we serve”.
It’s a noble statement and one that could equally be applied to climate change mitigation – but there’s apparently less money in that.
In a media world that has seen free-to-air TV, radio and newspapers disrupted by digital media in recent years, the interest in coronavirus news is bringing mixed fortunes.
Audiences are surging, but advertising revenues are in grave doubt as businesses pull in their horns.
With limited dollars in the field, the rush is on to highlight who is winning the battle for the most viewers.
On social media senior ABC personalities have been welcoming their bigger numbers, but the Nine network has also had high-profile boosters in the field, including senior Canberra journalist Chris Uhlmann.
The often combative journalist raised eyebrows with recent posts that appeared to take aim at his former employer, the ABC.
And if you thought it was just talking heads on Australian television shouting about their increased audience numbers, you’ve clearly forgotten about US President Donald Trump.
The mass media marketer-in-chief has spent the past few days bragging about how his newly re-animated daily White House briefings are a ratings hit.
Mr Trump claims one of his recent 6pm briefings attracted 6.2 million viewers, tweeting it was “an astounding number … more akin to the viewership for a popular prime-time sitcom”.
This website, The New Daily, operates on a free subscription model and has also had an increase in traffic during the recent crisis.
Month on month, TND has increased traffic to its site by 25 per cent since February.
It has an audience of 3.85 million monthly unique visitors, with daily growth through the crisis.
Ultimately, the numbers men will sort out the traffic and the advertising issues, but we would all be better served if journalists just worked towards providing factual and useful information targeted to the audience that they know consume and enjoy their work.
It’s masks, medical equipment and holding power to account that is required in this time of crisis – not egos and mine’s bigger than yours comparisons.
Oh, and when money is tight and you’re signing on for anything that requires credit card details, read the fine print.