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Cars and Corona(Virus): Pitching Media During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since the beginning of March, the mainstream news cycle has almost exclusively turned toward covering the global COVID-19 pandemic. Is there still an appetite for “normal” content among journalists and readers during such a historical event?

With several automotive clients, the Stratacomm team was leery to pitch non-COVID-19 related stories. But as the weeks have worn on, we’ve found that, like the rest of us, many auto industry journalists are trying to get back to covering their typical beat as much as possible. And with travel bans in place we’re even hearing many enthusiast websites are looking for additional content and are covering stories they may not have had time to investigate before. Further, we’re hearing “escapist” type stories are performing incredibly well as readers seek distraction from the world around them.

To learn more about this topic we reached out to freelancer Perry Stern of Automotive Content Experience for his perspective on receiving pitches and writing stories during the pandemic. Perry’s work is regularly featured on autoNXT, MSN.com, and Ourautoexpert. Despite his need to adapt to the realities of working under the current conditions, the essence of Perry’s work remains unchanged.

Steve Diehlman: How much has your typical breadth of coverage changed?

Perry Stern: A good portion of our stories had always been related to new product launches and auto shows – with neither of these happening we’ve moved to more evergreen stories, updating past topics and list-type stories.

SD: Have you found yourself showing more interest in writing about topics or companies that you would have passed on before?

PS: Not really – sticking with new car topics for the most part, however making connections to the current crisis where appropriate.

SD: Do you prefer to cover the hard news, or more “escapist” type content right now?

PS: For our audience, we lean toward the escapist content. With a small staff we’ve always found it difficult to cover hard news in a timely fashion.

SD: Are video or photo assets of more interest to you right now at a time where you can’t capture your own assets?

PS: For new car debuts photo assets are much more important without means of shooting my own.

SD: Would you say you have more time/interest in speaking with an SME for better context when writing a story now?

PS: It would depend on the specific topic, but I have not found an increased need for this resource.

SD: What’s the worst/most irrelevant pitch you’ve received since COVID-19 began?

PS: With the exception of the constant offers to launder millions of dollars from banks in Nigeria and the opportunity to download all sorts of backgrounds for Zoom meetings, we got a pitch to feature a Tesla Reaction Game from a leasing company in the UK. Best line was “we found the average time of the AEB which is 0.3 seconds. Which begs the question… Could this be faster than Tesla’s stock is plummeting right now too?

SD: What are your personal reading habits like lately? More breaking news or enthusiast-type articles?

PS: Until this happened, I tended to avoid news stories – now I find myself constantly checking to see if anything new has been published regarding factory shutdowns, recovery data and pandemic response from companies and politicians.