Local news: rebuilding trust and relevance in the pandemic

Posted by David Quin

As the old newsroom cliché has it, all news is local. And despite being a global pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis has been felt first in our families, on our doorsteps and in our streets. It’s a worldwide issue understood at a local level, and that is where we come in.  

At Thomson, 2020 has been a year of doubling down on our long history of helping journalists make sense of the world for the audience right in front of them, in their local communities. After all, we were born from a global media empire that started with local radio and newspapers in small town Canada. It’s in our DNA. 

In a multitude of ways, big and small, our job in this most testing of years, has been to refocus our attention on getting to the root of issues, fast, and in cost effective way. Forging trusted relationships with editors and journalists under immense pressures, to get accurate news out that local audiences need, from media that are trusted and will survive. 

Finding Balkan solutions to Balkan problems.

David Quin, director of development Thomson Foundation
Western Balkans

Take our work in the Western Balkans. The multi-year, multi-country project could have been seriously derailed by border closures, social distancing measures and lockdowns. It hasn’t because it was always designed to work first at a regional level, beyond the capitals, with media in cities like Niš, Novi Sad, Ohrid, Tetovo and Banja Luka. That means it’s led, in its first phase, by a team built around the deep and wide experiences of digital media already in the region, around their knowledge and entrepreneurialism.

Only after doing that did we bring in editorial or business support from our worldwide network of experts. Collaboration, greatly helped by our E-Learning network Journalism Now, is all driven towards finding Balkan solutions to Balkan problems, growing local audiences, exploring new revenue opportunities in the community and reinforcing trust, as part of their regions.

Patterns of disinformation around Covid-19

The same is true in South America. Covid-19 has left a trail of destruction throughout the continent, devasting communities in Brazil, Argentina, Peru and beyond. With health systems at breaking point, PPE provision patchy and leaderships often spreading disinformation, there has never been a more critical time for trusted media to get a grip on the conversation. Our programmes in South America have been designed to look specifically at the methods and patterns of disinformation around Covid-19, in particular to look at how WhatsApp chat groups are replacing news with fact-free conspiracy, at a city and regional level, and how media can correct the balance with engaging, honest content.

Most recently working across five regions of Argentina, Thomson has forged partnerships with critical local media players to help them strengthen their fact checking and data usage as part of a wider brand awareness and business development strategy. Again, all has been designed to fit their needs, with us doing a deep dive on how their media businesses work, and what disinformation challenges they face, with long term engagement and consultation driven by our innovation in e-learning and long-term knowledge of what works, fast.

Trusted relationships

Covid-19 has tested states around the world in ways hard to imagine at the beginning of the year. But for countries emerging from decades of conflict, sanctions and mismanagement, the pressures the pandemic has created have been almost too much to bear. Sudan is one such place. Thomson has been working in Sudan for over eight years, starting long before the 2019 revolution. In that time everything we’ve done has been built on trusted relationships with editors and journalists, across the country, whose interests have always been with the people first. When Covid-19 began to be a major public health emergency in March, it was clear that our nationwide media network would have a role to play. So when the Sudanese Ministry of Information asked us to help design a nationwide programme to help media across the country our first thought was how to make it user friendly for media in their communities.

Innovation through WhatsApp

But with communications difficult, travel to Sudan almost impossible, and regional lockdowns being imposed, we had to get innovative and quickly. Our local networks told us that the best way to reach the widest possible group would be to adapt our Journalism Now “Covering Covid” courses for WhatsApp. So we did. Within ten days we had reached nearly 2,000 journalists alongside government health and communications teams, right across the country. The vast majority completing the course in 45 minutes on their phones, getting the right skills on covering the pandemic for their audiences and joining up the message at a vital moment.

Every story locally relevant

As this momentous year draws to a close, it's clear that much has changed and changed forever. And whilst media continue to lose revenue, disinformation remains rampant and authoritarian populism continues to shout loudly, what 2020 has reinforced to us at Thomson is that keeping every story locally relevant is the only way to rebuild trust when and where it’s needed most.


Illustrations: Eleanor Shakespeare, Michelle Thompson


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David Quin

David Quin

Managing Director – Development

About: David is a global media development leader. As managing director development he is in charge of sourcing and managing all donor-funded projects. 

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