THE IMPORTANCE OF LOCAL NEWS IN TIMES OF CRISIS

Making sure we all get trusted and useful information about our communities is always important, but during the pandemic- it is critical. Unfortunately, many communities across the country don’t have a local news outlet they can turn to for trusted important information about how the outbreak is impacting where they live. And how essential information from state and local lawmakers is disseminated helps to prevent the spread of misinformation while providing key stories about the impact on local economy, schools, businesses and food insecurity. So tonight we talk with the managing editor of The River, a reporting initiative covering the Hudson Valley region where just this past week, 269 residents lost their battles with COVID-19.

Aired on April 27, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

MAKING SURE THAT WE ALL GET TRUSTED AND USEFUL INFORMATION ABOUT OUR COMMUNITIES IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT, BUT CRITICAL DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

UNFORTUNATELY, MANY COMMUNITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY MAY NOT FULLY KNOW HOW MUCH THE CORONAVIRUS HAS IMPACTED THEIR LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND WHAT THE RESPONSE HAS BEEN, BECAUSE THEY LACK A LOCAL NEWS OUTLET.

THE DISSEMINATION OF CRUCIAL INFORMATION FROM STATE AND LOCAL LEADERS HELPS PREVENT THE SPREAD OF MISINFORMATION, AND ALSO PROVIDES COMMUNITY STORIES ABOUT THE LOCAL ECONOMY, SCHOOL AND BUSINESS CLOSURES AND THE WORK THEY'RE DOING ONLINE, AS WELL AS THE NEEDS OF LOCAL FOOD BANKS.

SO JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT LOCAL COVERAGE OF THE CORONAVIRUS, NEW YORK'S HUDSON VALLEY REGION IS PHILLIP PA PANTUSO, MANAGING EDITOR OF 'THE RIVER,' A LOCAL NEWS INITIATIVE FROM CHRONIC MEDIA THAT PROVIDES IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM ON THE COMMUNITIES NORTH OF NEW YORK CITY.

AND HE JOINS ME NOW.

PHILLIP, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME, JENNA.

SO FIRST, I DO WANT TO START OFF WITH JUST THE FACT THAT YOU GUYS ARE COVERING THIS AREA.

NOW I WANT TO GIVE FULL TRANSPARENCY AND SAY THAT A LOT OF MY INTEREST IN 'THE RIVER' IS BECAUSE I WOULD BE ONE OF YOUR READERS AND ALSO I LIVE IN THE AREA, BUT I WANTED TO GET YOUR TAKE ON WHAT IT WAS THAT YOU'RE FINDING OUT ABOUT HOW THE CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN THIS AREA, BECAUSE WE'RE NOT A HOT SPOT NECESSARILY LIKE NEW YORK CITY, BUT WE DO HAVE A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF CASES.

YES.

IT REALLY KIND OF DEPENDS WHERE THE HUDSON VALLEY YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.

SO, BECAUSE THE PANDEMIC IS HITTING DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE VALLEY DIFFERENTLY.

SO IN ROCKLAND AND WESTCHESTER, THE LOWER HUDSON VALLEY, SUBURBS TO THE CITY, CONFIRMED CASES THERE ARE TWO OR THREE TIMES HIGHER PER CAPITA THAN THE STATE AS A HOLE SO THIS PLACE HAS HOT SPOTS.

THERE WAS THE AREA IN NEW ROCHELLE AND THE FURTHER UP YOU GO, FEWER CASES THERE ARE.

SORT OF LIKE A GRADIENT, AND THEN AS YOU GO FURTHER OUT INTO THE CATSKILLS, PLACES WITH LESS DIRECT CONNECTION TO THE CITY, THE SPREAD HAS BEEN SLOWER, AND THERE YOU SEE IT SORT OF SOME OF THE AREAS ARE REALLY RURAL, AND THE CONNECTIONS INTERNET AND RESOURCES ISN'T AS STABLE AND SOME PEOPLE DON'T HAVE INTERNET, SO THERE'S A PROBLEM OF A LACK OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION, PEOPLE NOT TAKING SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURES QUITE AS SERIOUSLY, THINGS LIKE THAT, AND I THINK YOU'RE ALSO SEEING SOME TENSION BETWEEN LOCAL RESIDENTS AND SECOND HOMEOWNERS.

OH, YES.

WHERE THE 'NEW YORK TIMES' REPORTED THE FIRST FOUR CASES IN GREEN COUNTY WHERE THERE'S STILL ONLY A COUPLE DOZEN CASES TOTAL WERE ALL NEW YORK CITY RESIDENTS, TRAVELED UPSTATE FLEEING THE HOT ZONE, POSITIVE CASES IN THE CITY.

AND SEVERAL COUNTIES HAVE ISSUED DO NOT TRAVEL WARNINGS, BASICALLY SAYING IF YOU'RE NOT HERE ALREADY, LIKE DON'T COME HERE.

SO THAT'S BEEN UNIQUE TO OUR REGION, I THINK.

YES, AND WHEN I SAY 'OH, YES,' I MEAN THERE ARE A LOT OF -- FIRST OF ALL YOU JUST HEAR THE CHATTER CONSTANTLY AMONGST LOCALS IN VARIOUS LOCATIONS, BUT ALSO ON CERTAIN ONLINE FORUMS, THERE'S A LOT OF TALK ABOUT, YOU KNOW, IF THE VIRUS MAY OR MAY NOT BE SPREADING BECAUSE WE'RE GETTING AN INFLUX OF PEOPLE COMING FROM A HOT ZONE LIKE NEW YORK, BUT BEFORE WE GET INTO THAT, I DO WANT TO SAY I DON'T WANT TO PAINT THE HUDSON VALLEY OR THE MID HUDSON AS A NEWS DESERT.

WE ARE CERTAINLY NOT.

WE DO HAVE SEVERAL NEWSPAPERS, BUT THEY ARE FOCUSED REALLY ON THE CITIES IN THE AREA.

RIGHT.

BUT ALSO THERE WERE A LOT OF WEEKLIES THAT FOCUSED ON THE SMALLER COMMUNITIES WHICH IS WHERE A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF THE POPULATION IS AS WELL, BUT THEY HAVEN'T FARED SO WELL.

THAT'S RIGHT.

YOU HAVE A LOT OF WEEKLIES THAT HAVE CLOSED DOWN IN RECENT YEARS JUST FALLING VICTIM TO THE SAME SYSTEMIC PRESSURE THE AREAS, LOCAL JOURNALISM ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND THAT'S HAPPENING WITH THE NEWSPAPERS IN THE CITIES, TOO.

JUST THIS WEEK THE 'KINGSTON DAILY FREEMAN' OWN BY ALDEN CAPITAL LAID OFF A HANDFUL OF WORKERS, FURLOUGHING EVERYONE ELSE.

SO THEY AT A TIME WHEN THEIR COVERAGE IS MORE NEEDED THAN EVER, THEY HAVE LESS RESOURCES THAN EVER TO PROVIDE THAT COVERAGE.

EXACTLY.

YES, AND I THINK TO YOUR POINT ABOUT US NOT EXACTLY BEING A NEWS DESERT, THAT'S TRUE AND THE NEWSPAPERS AS YOU MENTIONED ARE MOSTLY IN THE CITIES, I THINK WHAT 'THE RIVER' TRIES TO DO IS COVER THE REGION AS A WHOLE, WHICH IS PRETTY RARELY DONE CERTAINLY FOR A NEWS PUBLI PUBLICATION.

YOU GET SOME COVERAGE OF THE REGION AS A WHOLE FROM A TRAVELER'S PERSPECTIVE BUT WE'RE TRYING TO CAST A PRETTY WIDE NET.

OF COURSE, AND WE'RE TALKING ABOUT MULTICOUNTIES AND MULTIPLE DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES THAT CAN RANGE FROM DENSELY URBAN POPULATIONS TO SERIOUSLY RURAL FARMLAND.

SO THAT IS NO SMALL FEAT OF WHAT YOU GUYS ARE TRYING TO DO, BUT I ALSO WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE DISSEMINATION OF INFORMATION FROM STATE AND LOCAL LEADERS.

NOW, OF COURSE, WE ARE ALL NEW YORKERS, AND OUR GOVERNOR HAS HAD NO PROBLEM GETTING NATIONAL ATTENTION, BUT ALSO I DON'T THINK AS MANY PEOPLE MIGHT BE HEARING ABOUT SOME OF THE DECISIONS THAT ARE BEING MADE BY COUNTY EXECUTIVES AND LOCAL COMMUNITY BOARDS IN REGARDS TO HOW THEY'RE GOING TO ATTEMPT TO HANDLE THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC IN THE COMING MONTHS THEMSELVES.

YES, THAT'S TRUE.

SEVERAL COUNTY EXECUTIVES UP HERE HAVE BEEN PRETTY GOOD, I THINK, GETTING THEMSELVES, TRYING TO GET THEIR INFORMATION OUT.

I KNOW PAT RYAN IN OLSTER COUNTY IS DOING REGULAR SORT OF FACEBOOK LIVE TOWN HALLS.

A LOT OF THEM ARE DONE, ROCKLAND IS DOING THAT, TOO.

I THINK THE COUNTY RESPONSE HAS BEEN PRETTY GOOD, BOTH OLSTER AND DUCHESS HAVE COUNTY LEVEL EMERGENCY FUNDS THAT THEY HAVE STARTED UP TO DISTRIBUTE TO HELP SUPPORT EMERGENCY RELIEF HERE, AND PART OF WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO IS WE'RE WATCHING ALL OF THOSE EXECUTIVE TOWN HALLS, WE'RE SIGNED UP FOR ALL OF THEIR PRESS RELEASES, COMBING THEIR COUNTY SITES.

MOST COUNTIES TO THEIR CREDIT HAVE SET UP AS LIKE A PAGE ON THEIR DEPARTMENT HEALTH SITES A CORONAVIRUS PAGE THAT HAS ALL OF THE UPDATES, SOME OF THEM ARE BETTER UPDATING IT THAN OTHERS, AND CASE NUMBERS, THINGS LIKE THAT.

YOU KNOW, THERE ISN'T REALLY A LOT OF CONSISTENCY ACROSS THIS REGION WITH HOW COUNTIES ARE SHARING CASES, BUT TO THE DEGREE THAT THEY ARE SHARING INFORMATION, WE'RE TRYING TO ROUND IT UP.

AND OF COURSE, THAT'S GREATLY APPRECIATED.

I'M SPEAKING WITH PHILLIP PAN PANTUSO, MANAGING EDITOR OF 'THE RIVER' A JOURNALISM INITIATIVE BROUGHT TO YOU BY CRHONOGRAM MEDIA.

WE ARE NOW LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL AS PEOPLE IN PRELIMINARY STAGES START TO CONSIDER WHAT A REOPENING MIGHT BE.

THE QUESTION REALLY I THINK REMAINS FOR THE HUDSON VALLEY, WHICH IS VERY TOURISM HEAVY IN TERMS OF ITS ECONOMY, WHAT KIND OF AN IMPACT WE COULD START TO SEE HAPPENING.

HAVE YOU GUYS GOTTEN A CHANCE TO GET ANY INDICATION ON WHAT MIGHT BE LOOMING FOR THE AREA?

I KNOW THERE'S A LOT OF FARMING UP HERE.

THERE'S ALSO A LOT OF TOURISM, AS I SAID ALREADY.

WHAT DO YOU SEE HAPPENING?

I'M KIND OF CONCERNED ABOUT THE LONG-TERM ECONOMIC IMPACT FOR OUR REGION IN PARTICULAR.

AS YOU MENTIONED, TOURISM, HOSPITALITY ARE MAJOR ECONOMIC DRIVERS HERE AND THE PREDICTIONS TO THOSE INDUSTRIES ARE REALLY GRIM.

I WAS ON A CALL JUST EARLIER THIS WEEK, IT WAS ORGANIZED BY 'THE TIMES' WHERE THEY PREDICTED, CITED ONE STUDY THAT PREDICTED UP TO 7% OF -- 70% OF RESTAURANTS MIGHT CLOSE.

70%?

YES.

THERE'S ONLY SO MUCH A STIMULUS PACKAGE CAN HELP.

WITH CONSUMER SPENDING YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER NOT ONLY WHEN THE ECONOMY WILL REOPEN BUT WHEN PEOPLE WILL FEEL COMFORTABLE GOING BACK TO RESTAURANTS, BARS AT A LEVEL SUFFICIENT TO KEEP THOSE PLACES IN THE BLACK, AND THEN YOU KNOW, WHO KNOWS PEOPLE WILL EVEN HAVE MUCH MONEY TO SPEND.

SECONDARILY, PROBABLY THE SECOND BIGGEST ECONOMIC OR THE SECOND BIGGEST INDUSTRY UP HERE IS AGRICULTURE, AND I THINK SUSTAINING THAT INDUSTRY IS A LITTLE BIT MORE STRAIGHTFORWARD FROM A POLICY PERSPECTIVE, JUST BECAUSE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ALREADY SUBSIDIZES FARMING SO THE MECHANISM EXISTS.

BUT IN NEW YORK, IT'S MOSTLY SMALL FARMS, WHICH YOU KNOW --

YES.

-- THERE'S SORT OF -- THERE'S TWO SIDES TO THAT.

THE SMALL FARMS ARE BETTER ABLE TO PIVOT I THINK, WHAT YOU'RE SEEING, A LOT OF SMALL FARMS UP HERE WHO SUPPLY TO RESTAURANTS, THEY'RE NOT DOING THAT NOW.

WHAT THEY'RE DOING IS THEY'RE SUPPLYING TO LOCAL FOOD BANKS OR HELPING SET UP LIKE A POP-UP MARKET WITH SOCIAL DISTANCING PROTOCOLS, THINGS LIKE THAT, BUT OF COURSE THE SMALL FARMS HAVE A LOT LESS MARGIN FOR ERROR, TOO.

SO A LOT OF DAIRY FARMS UP HERE, TOO, AND A LOT OF DAIRY FARM MILK FROM DAIRY FARMS GOES TO SCHOOLS, WHICH OF COURSE ARE CLOSED.

SO WE'VE ALL I THINK PROBABLY SEEN THE STORIES OF DAIRY FARMERS DUMPING MILK, BECAUSE THE WHOLE SUPPLY CHAIN IS JUST BROKEN, EVEN IF THEY WANTED TO PIVOT TO RETAIL, THE PROCESSING PLANTS ARE CLOSED, SO THE LONG-TERM -- THE SHORT TERM ECONOMIC IMPACT, I'M KIND OF WORRIED ABOUT WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE FOR THIS REGION.

WELL, THERE HAS BEEN TALK IN AT LEAST SOME PARTS OF WASHINGTON ABOUT PERHAPS ADDING FEDERAL FUNDING FOR LOCAL NEWSROOMS IN THE NEXT RELIEF PACKAGE, AND I'M WONDERING, FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW, DO YOU THINK THAT THAT IS A GOOD THING FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO STEP IN AND DO?

IS THIS CRITICALLY NEEDED OR AS SOME PEOPLE SAY, LET THE MARKET DECIDE WHAT HAPPENS WITH THESE OUTLETS?

I DO THINK SOMETHING LIKE THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN.

JOURNALISM IS ESSENTIAL TO THE FUNCTIONING OF DEMOCRACY, AND THAT'S CLEAR RIGHT NOW MORE THAN EVER.

THE INFORMATION PEOPLE RECEIVE RIGHT NOW CAN LITERALLY BE A LIFE OR DEATH MATTER.

AND THE ECONOMIC DECLINE THAT'S HAPPENING AS A RESULT OF THE PANDEMIC IS JUST ACCELERATING PREEXISTING CONDITIONS BASICALLY THAT WERE ALREADY HOLLERING OUT TO THE JOURNALISM INDUSTRY, AND SO YOU KNOW, EFFECTIVELY THE BUSINESS MODEL FOR MOST FOR-PROFIT JOURNALISM HAS COLLAPSED WITH THE DECLINE IN OUR REVENUE.

'THE RIVER' ARE MEMBER AND READER SUPPORTED BUT THAT'S GOING TO BE TOUGH FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE, TOO, AND WE'RE OPERATING ON VERY, VERY THIN MARGINS, AND SO I DO THINK THAT SOME KIND OF PROVISION IN A SUBSEQUENT STIMULUS PACKAGE THAT RECOGNIZES WITH MONEY --

YES.

-- THE VALUE OF JOURNALISM RIGHT NOW IS SORELY NEEDED.

WELL, ACTUALLY THAT'S GREAT THAT YOU MENTIONED THAT 'THE RIVER' IS OF COURSE SUPPORTED WITH DONATIONS IN PART, AND SO I DID WANT TO SAY OR ASK YOU, WHERE IS IT THAT PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T QUITE FOUND 'THE RIVER' YET, WHERE CAN THEY FIND YOU?

ONE LINE AT THERIVERNEWSROOM.COM, OUR T TWITTER HANDLE.

WE DON'T HAVE A PAY WALL, ALTHOUGH WE DO ASK PEOPLE TO DONATE.

THERE'S A VERY LOUD OBVIOUS DONATION BUTTON AT THE TOP, YOU CAN BECOME A SUBSCRIBER AS WELL TO OUR NEWSLETTER.

RIGHT NOW WE'RE SENDING OUT UPDATES OF CORONAVIRUS NEWS FROM 11 COUNTIES THROUGHOUT THE HUDSON VALLEY AND THE CATSKILLS AND STATE LEVEL AND SOME FEDERAL LEVEL NEWS, FIVE DAYS A WEEK AND ALSO RUNNING ORIGINAL COVERAGE, USUALLY TWO OR THREE STORIES PER WEEK LOOKING A WHOLE RANGE OF SECOND ORDER EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC, HOW SERVICE WORKERS ARE FARING, HOW FARMERS ARE FARING.

OF COURSE.

PHILLIP, I HATE TO CUT YOU OFF.

I COULD LITERALLY CONTINUE TALKING TO YOU ABOUT SERIOUSLY THE IMPACT OF THIS PANDEMIC ON THE ECONOMIC REGION AND OF COURSE THE HEALTH OF THE MID HUDSON VALLEY BUT I HAVE TO LET IT GO.

PHILLIP PANTUSO MANAGING EDITOR OF 'THE RIVER' THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US ON THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU SO MUCH, JENNA.

ABSOLUTELY.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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