The coronavirus pandemic and the consequent need for reliable information has triggered a surge in traditional mainstream media audiences – one that could provide outlets with an opportunity to emerge from the crisis of confidence that faces them.
The unstoppable spread of Covid-19 around the world has led the media to devote itself almost exclusively to covering it in order to answer the questions of a population that is anxious about its health and concerned about the economic and social consequences of the pandemic.
"We have never had so much audience, neither in the quantitative nor in the qualitative part – that is to say, the reading time" on the web, a spokesman for El País, the most widely read generalist newspaper in Spain, told AFP.
"It's crazy," added the spokesman, pointing out that this trend has been seen in readers in Spain and in Latin America, where it has a specific edition.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo indicated that since the beginning of March, "every day traffic on the web is 120 percent higher than usual."
On the day the first case of coronavirus hit Argentina, visits to Clarín newspaper sites "increased by 26 percent and page views by 35 percent," explained General Editor Ricardo Kirschbaum.
And when the government decreed total quarantine, "we reached a historical record of users [6.6 million]," he added.
"Users are looking for explanatory notes, service notes and testimonials. And they are very interested in what is happening in other countries, especially Italy, Spain and France," said Kirschbaum.
For its part, in the second week of March, fellow local daily La Nación "increased its daily digital audience by an average of 108 percent."
"We have broken all the historical records for continuous viewing since we had the digital edition (first introduced in 1995)," said Martín Rodríguez Yebra, a journalist at the paper.
Uruguay's El País also registered a more than 50 percent increase in page views in the first 20 days of March compared to the same period in 2019.
Kirschbaum said, "One of the conclusions that can still be drawn from this data is that audiences turn to proven media outlets such as Clarín, among others, when they need reliable information, well-founded opinions and in-depth coverage.
A survey conducted in mid-March by the Ipsos Institute for Axios in the United States tends to confirm the hypothesis that half of US citizens are relying on large traditional media for reliable information about the coronavirus, while 74 percent are suspicious of social networks.
Faced with this crisis, "people need to trust science, public authorities, the media. In recent years, irresponsible politicians have deliberately undermined trust" in these three sectors, estimated Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian and author of the celebrated book Sapiens, told The Financial Times.
The BBC also recorded record audiences, at a time of uncertainty about its future, as Boris Johnson's government accused the British public body of bias and threatened to end its historic system of funding based on a media tax.
"It's an important moment for the media," said French historian Patrick Eveno, "they have to show that they are at the service of the public, with reliable information and select" the relevant data, he said.
Eveno even believes that while the economic crisis following the pandemic could deal a fatal blow to the print format of most newspapers, "media that are considered reliable could see their digital subscriptions multiply."
At the same time, the traditional press is helping to stop the spread of "fake news" about the coronavirus, some of which are already popular, such as the false information that the virus that emerged in China was created by the prestigious Pasteur Institute.
But other media also picked up on false information, such as The Daily Mail in the UK, which claimed that the virus initially infected a person who had eaten bat soup in China.
by By Anna Pelegri, Agence France-Presse