How The Spinoff is dealing with the evolving crisis – and what’s driving our work.
On Monday morning I had coffee with Toby Manhire, The Spinoff’s tireless (but also very tired) editor, at a cafe underneath our Morningside office. He had worked all weekend, filing stories at midnight on both Saturday and Sunday, as Covid-19 surged. We talked about the virus, about its profundity, and how redundant it felt to cover anything else. Quickly we came to the conclusion that The Spinoff was no longer a site covering politics, business, social issues and culture, but now one which covered the way all those sectors were intersecting with Covid-19.
Afterwards we had an extended all staff editorial meeting to start the week, conveying that change, talking about what it meant for us as reporters, and its inevitable impact on us as a business. Then we went to work.
All day traffic surged, much of it to pieces written by Siouxsie Wiles, a longtime contributor to The Spinoff who has suddenly and deservedly become one of the key science communicators of the crisis. Not just in New Zealand, but around the world – largely because of the way her calm, measured but still urgent writing has been fused with striking images drawn by Toby Morris.
The pair’s work has echoed extraordinarily loudly: Jacinda Ardern held up the image at a press conference over the weekend, a developer created a tool to translate the #flattenthecurve image into any language, and former US president Barack Obama tweeted a link to a story with their image (which is freely available under a creative commons licence) as its centrepiece.
By midnight we had experienced our largest-ever day for pageviews, eclipsing the awful aftermath of March 15th last year – the anniversary of which had been central to our thinking for months, yet was sadly overshadowed by the spread of the virus. Each day this week has been similarly huge, with pageviews roughly triple an ordinary week, and Monday’s record was broken again yesterday.
I observe that traffic record not to big-note, but because our whole editorial team was very aware of it, and of what it implied about the elevated importance of their work. Put it this way – when you often trade in humour and commentary, and power-rank reality TV shows with as much passion as you analyse parliament, you’re never sure how your team and your audience will respond to a crisis until it happens. That our people pivoted so willingly and adeptly to covering the sprawling implications of Covid-19 – and our audience clearly valued that shift – made me immensely proud of what remains mostly a fairly young staff.
The knowledge that tens of thousands were using us as a key source of information, during a time when access to reliable information and analysis was more valuable than ever, has given a real sense of purpose to our team. That goes beyond editorial, with everyone from our designer to our accountant stepping up.
As much as I’ve been moved by our team’s response, two other groups have shocked me with the way they have gathered around us. Those groups are our Members, and our commercial partners.
Firstly, our Members. We have seen nearly 1,000 more people get on board through March. Some have even been in touch to offer extra donations. Knowing the trouble coming down the pipe from a commercial perspective, the fact our audience has wrapped its arms around us means more than I can say. (If you aren’t a member, but would like to become one, here’s where to do that).
That said, the response from a number of longtime partners has been similarly impressive. We have already lost clients, and it’s certain that will continue. Some businesses are tremendously exposed to this, and they are right to think of their own people first and foremost as this storm gathers. Yet others have approached us to try and do more work, or offer their normal slots up to institutions in need. When you’re bracing yourself for the worst, to have people – from small businesses like Unity, to listed corporates like Z Energy – reaffirm their commitment is deeply moving. If you’re in the market for anything from electricity to banking, I can’t recommend our long-term partners highly enough.
I write this from a desk in my living room. The whole staff have been working from home since Tuesday, and are rapidly learning how to operate in that environment, swapping desk pics and new work outfit updates. Constant change is normal for everyone now, and with it touching new behaviours emerge. We had an event scheduled for next Wednesday at Meow in Wellington, featuring Danyl McLauchlan in conversation with Andrea Vance and Neale Jones, and elected to replace it with a podcast earlier this week. When the organisers – a small, three-person event business – got in touch with ticket holders offering refunds, the majority told them to keep the money.
This is the kind of fast, instinctive action that will help hold us all together as we go through this unparalleled event. As we move into the next phases of this crisis, while continuing to provide as much coverage of this situation as we’re able to, we’ll be looking at ways we might help build bridges between those with capacity to give, and those in need.
That we’re able to do this is down to the whole community around The Spinoff. From our staff, to our audience, to our members and those who work with us. We feel it all very deeply, and are committed to meet this moment.