Perhaps some of the most important questions right now during this global pandemic is “What happens next?”
In May, the Hearst Connecticut Media Group chose to answer that question by dedicating eight of its daily newspapers and websites to this topic in a special edition called The Road Ahead: Life After COVID-19.
The eight papers took an in-depth look at what lies ahead for the state of Connecticut and its residents following the pandemic. Dozens of stories were featured spanning multiple areas like healthcare, economy, education, technology, and transportation. The articles examined questions like “Are pandemic drills next for students?” and “Will the pandemic speed the shift to driverless cars?”
“The series was born because we were breaking a lot of (COVID-19) news, and you could feel that readers were starting to navigate towards questions around what was going to happen next,” Wendy Metcalfe, vice president of content and editor-in-chief, said.
Hearst Connecticut Media Group recruited nearly 200 of their own journalists, as well as leading experts and eight student journalists from four universities around the state, to create content for the special edition. The team felt that it was important to reach the younger audience and to reflect what was concerning them, which is why they decided to bring in the students. The students had previously contributed to a section called The Heart of the Coronavirus Crisis.
The team paid attention to what was being talked about in their communities, the data depicting what was resonating with readers, and the expertise in the newsroom to decide what needed to go into the edition, Metcalfe said.
In addition to the print versions (which ended up being the largest editorial sections since 2004 for the eight dailies), most of the project can be found on Hearst’s Insider digital subscription platform. A few items, such as pieces written by the students, can be found online for free.
Metcalfe shared that the early response to The Road Ahead was positive. Data showed that readers were engaging with the content online, and additionally, on the day of publication and the following day—when the edition was heavily promoted—40 percent of their top 10 stories that drove non-subscribers to the paywall were from the project, including pieces about the future of vaccines, grocery shopping habits and the possible decline of jury trials.
Metcalfe expects several follow-ups will be done regarding several of the topics discussed because readers are still searching for information that will help keep them safe and healthy.
“To put a whole edition together that looks at those core sectors in someone’s life and lays out what’s possible and what lessons can be learned and what obstacles are out there, I think it’s a great reader service,” she said.