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CNN’s Jason Farkas talks covering COVID-19

May 6, 2020

Posted by Erica Thompson

Jason Farkas, VP and General Manager for CNN Business

We sat down (virtually) with CNN Business General Manager and VP Jason Farkas to discuss the organization’s coverage of COVID-19.

When did you start covering COVID and at what point did you realize that this was going to be THE story for the foreseeable future?

I think the stock market began registering the COVID threat in late February, and we saw an enormous amount of audience interest even at that time. In February, we set a record high for multiplatform unique users, but things really accelerated in March. I think it was the evening when three things happened almost within an hour of each other that made COVID quite real. Trump said that he was banning European travel, the NBA season was delayed or canceled and Tom Hanks said he had COVID. All of those things happening within 60 minutes of each other was like a watershed moment.

It became clear that COVID was going to redefine the way we live our lives, but also fundamentally change the economy for workers, investors, policy makers and regulators, as well as for small business owners. It had turned everything upside down and the nation felt it in that moment. That’s when I began to think about our editorial priorities for the coming weeks.

How much of your newsroom is remote? Has it impacted the general workflow?

One hundred percent of CNN’s Business is now remote; we’re all working from home, and that transition happened relatively smoothly. I was sort of surprised by how quickly we could adjust, but I guess it speaks to the nature of being a mobile journalist before COVID and our need to report from the road. The tools that we have make reporting from different locations more seamless. Our existing platforms made it possible when it came to having to transition with very short notice; I’d say it took less than 24 hours to adjust to the tech.

We’re still grappling from a human standpoint, though. We really want to investigate that topic in particular. Millions of people are doing this for the first time and it presents our own difficulties and opportunities. We launched a newsletter called “Work Transformed” about how our jobs are changing, but the lessons that we’re going to learn as a workforce and what we’ll take away from this regarding how things will be for the future are permanent.

How has the virus impacted the way reporters do their jobs? How do they continue to build sources or get the man-on-the-street quotes you may need for a story about local businesses?

Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about broadcast on the CNN Business side of things, and so much of getting sources was already through digital comms one way or another. Man on the street wasn’t a huge part of our reporting beforehand, and truly finding people through social discovery and long-standing sources that we’ve had hasn’t changed because of our ability to be at a location. One of the things we’re trying to get a better sense of is what challenges frontline workers are encountering. It’s certainly difficult to report that on the front lines as it does become a safety concern for everyone. Because you can’t go to the Amazon warehouse, we’re finding new ways to get at those angles.

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