One America News Network, the Trump-boosting outlet based in San Diego, has aired its share of coronavirus stories. But a note sent Thursday to OANN writers and producers suggests coverage could slack off.
News director Chris Schickedanz said in a morning email: “Let’s pull back on coronavirus stories / pressers. Don’t need to cover all. Focus on larger updates or big changes.”
A newsroom source called the order a sign of the network’s “failing news judgment.”
The source, who asked not to be identified, said OANN founder and CEO Robert Herring Sr. ordered the newsroom to minimize coverage of the coronavirus “to the point where only if the Trump Administration says something should we cover it.”
“Apparently a national health emergency, let alone a global health emergency, is not worth informing Americans here and abroad about at all,” the source told Times of San Diego on Friday.
Schickedanz wasn’t immediately available for comment, a spokeswoman said, but in a phone interview, Herring disputed a contention that coronavirus coverage was being limited for political reasons. (A week ago, President Trump said Democrats and the news media, including CNN, were “doing everything they can to instill fear in people, and I think it’s ridiculous.”)
“I would say you are way off base,” Herring said Friday.
He said he tells the newsroom when it starts “running too much” on a subject.
“It’s like … at CNN, and there’s a plane crash. They’ll do that for three or four days and then they don’t [air] the other information that they have.”
He said he had a San Diego crew out Thursday and decided “I had too many people spread all over. You gotta tell them something sooner or later” to ease off.
Both views are plausible, says Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University.
“On the one hand, I see OANN’s point that the virus is not the only story worth telling,” Nelson said. “In the news media, we do tend to put all of our resources on something while ignoring other important issues.
But if the network is just taking its cues from Fox News pundits and Rush Limbaugh — “who are telling people that it’s just part of the vast liberal conspiracy to criticize President Trump — then it’s irresponsible to not cover it thoroughly,” he said.
“That’s why it’s important to have news organizations competing with one another — viewers and readers can go to another news source to get the information they need.”
In an email follow-up after the phone chat, Herring stressed the email’s directive to “focus on larger updates and big changes.”
“We have and will continue to provide extensive coverage on the coronavirus outbreak from several perspectives, including from the federal, state and local perspective,” he said.
He said a half-hour special on the coronavirus produced by OANN’s Washington bureau has been submitted and was being reviewed for airing.
“Yet our newsroom is currently producing a significant amount of coverage and some packages are overlapping and not providing additional informative value to our viewership,” Herring said.
(A search of the OANN website also reveals many Reuters stories on the global issue.)
“In addition, other important breaking news needs to be covered,” he said. “These type of directive adjustments are made on a regular, ongoing basis by management in the newsroom.”
Herring said it’s all part of a process of ensuring assets are “properly focused.”
“Some staff may not be aware of efforts underway by our other newsgathering staff and locations including Washington, D.C., and New York. Thus, ongoing monitoring and guidance is provided by news management that reside in the newsroom, not by senior management outside the newsroom.”
He concluded: “One concern we recognize is ‘staying on’ a single subject without offering meaningful new information at the expense of ignoring other important breaking news stories is not beneficial to the news viewer. We do our best to avoid this common trap.”