How we are changing our coronavirus coverage

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Well, that was a week. Noisy, some of it important perhaps, some of it unlikely to matter past the news cycle. The older I get, the less interested I am in the noise, or at least I yearn for the substance or the meaning behind it. The daily news cycle, as relentless as it is, matters – heck, it’s my job! – and helping Age readers be informed is a privilege. But my instinct is that many of our subscribers want more from us in an era of too much news, too many opinions. At our best, we cover, sift, analyse and explain as honestly and comprehensively as we can, even though the 24-hour news cycle is a hungry beast. Day by day, that’s my biggest challenge, to catch time to sit back and take stock, to work out what really matters, what Age readers demand from us. Sometimes, like many of us, my day can disappear in a mirage of furious busy-ness, the urgent crowding out the important. Living through the coronavirus pandemic has been one of those extraordinary experiences we hope will never be repeated in our lifetimes. Covering it has thrown up all those challenges of relentless news, routine conflict, and the need for deeper coverage. We published a free, seven-day-a-week blog on coronavirus from March 9 – it ran for almost 100 days. We took an eight-day break in June, naively thinking the worst was behind us. It wasn’t, and from June 21, we have blogged for almost 150 days straight. This blog has been an unprecedented reporting effort – our previous blogging record was 12 days during the bushfires earlier this year. The blog is where Victorians come to see the daily numbers, our collective mood soaring or falling depending on that figure. This is where you came to watch Premier Daniel Andrews’ daily press conferences – 120 in a row – as well as those from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other state leaders. This is where our data journalist Craig Butt could present the numbers in ways that made sense. How were we tracking compared with our targets? Where were our clusters? What was happening in aged care and in hospitals? Coronavirus has highlighted just how vital data journalism can be.

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Journalism is expensive and we need subscribers to support it, but we decided to allow free access to our coronavirus blog. That was an easy decision – we have an overriding duty to our community and the pandemic is of huge public interest. Every Victorian deserved access to reliable and timely information and reader response has been enormous. The blog is where we have gathered and shared our views and experiences. On some days, the blog received 3000 comments from readers.

So it is with mixed feelings that I let you know that Sunday will be our last daily coronavirus blog for now. Victoria has had 14 days of zero coronavirus cases in a row – hooray! – and while interest in the blog remains, fewer are checking in as the urgency of the crisis lessens a little. We will bring it back for big days – the next is November 22 when further easing of restrictions are due – and if anything changes. Given the way this year has gone, anything can happen.

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