Journalism and COVID-19: Impacts of the Global Pandemic

Key points by Ioanna Georgia Eskiadi

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all facets of society and economy. In this webinar, the ways in which the pandemic has impacted the journalism industry, journalists themselves, and media outlets was discussed. Across news and media outlets, workers are facing layoffs, positions are being reduced, and publications are folding. Beyond fearing for their job security, threats against journalists — such as verbal attacks and police harassment — have intensified and compromised the safety of journalists during COVID-19. This situation causes concern about the short- and long-term implications of COVID-19’s impact on journalism and the media. The pandemic has shifted, in a dramatic way, the journalism industry presently and into the future.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, three big trends in the field of journalism have emerged:

1. The financial status of many news and media organizations has been challenged due to limited advertising opportunities, changes in business plans, loss of income, job losses, and pay cuts. Panelists also noted the financial concerns for their newsrooms focused on covering new operating costs such as trainings on new technologies and science and health reporting; supporting remote reporting and publishing; and utilizing advanced verification and fact-checking systems and methodologies.

2. Second, there was a massive uptake in news consumption and interest at the start of the pandemic due to the fear and uncertainty the pandemic created. From this, there was a refined need to create media mediums to catch the interest of the audience, such as newsletters, podcasts, and subscription services, as during this period, consumers were more willing to pay for news as they understood the value of information during this period of uncertainty.

3. Threats to journalists on the front lines of reporting and news have increased during this period. Coverage of the pandemic has increased the need for more training and safety protocols to support and protect journalists. This era is also creating an “infodemic,” resulting in public concern about misinformation and trust in the media. The “infodemic” demands finding a balance between media freedom and freedom of expression that can be fact checked and corrected for misinformation.

Speakers agreed we should focus on protecting the mental health of journalists. Many journalists were called to cover the pandemic in the early stages of COVID-19, causing them to feel a sense of psychological distress from reporting in these uncertain circumstances. Journalists were working more hours while still dealing with isolation, financial issues, and finding sustainable journalism models. When the pandemic began, the field of journalism was already facing problems that were further exacerbated by COVID-19. Panelists noted the most difficult aspects of covering COVID-19 are the psychological and emotional impacts, concerns about unemployment and finance, the intense workload, social isolation, and the physical risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

One panelist detailed a new report on the field of journalism during the pandemic, with statistics such as:

· news organization revenue declined more than 75 percent during COVID-19

· 30 percent of journalists said their news organization was not supplying any safety equipment for field reporting

· 20 percent of journalists said online harassment was “much worse” during the pandemic, yet 96% indicated that their employers offered no help in dealing with the problem.

To this end, journalists noted they encountered COVID-19 disinformation daily, with the most prolific spread of disinformation coming from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Other top sources of disinformation are average citizens, political leaders and elected officials, attention-seeking trolls, profiteers, propagandistic or heavily partisan news media or state media, and identifiable government agencies or their spokespeople.

This webinar ended on a positive note, as the panelists noted they felt an increased commitment to their craft and that news consumers trusted them. They had a positive outlook on the future of the industry, noting the chances for collaboration and team efforts.

Key points:

· Fear of COVID-19 related issues

· Keep your sources close and avoid disinformation

· Check and cross-check the information.

· Need more video interviews and podcasts

· Increase of content creation

· Need for more quality and representation of society

· Journalists have suffered psychological distress

· Journalists were feeling under personal risk during the reporting

· More working hours during the pandemic

· Need to solve financial issues for sustainable journalism models

The discussion

Speakers:

Fatima Bahja is a Research and Proposal Coordinator on International Center for Journalists in Washington, DC, USA.

Sher Ali Khalti is Staff Reporter for The News in Lahore, Pakistan.

Sarah Scire is Staff Writer for Nieman Lab on Nieman Foundation for Journalism in New York, USA.

Parvathi Benu is Senior Reporter and Sub Editor in The New Indian Express in Kerala, India and U.S. State Department Fellows Exchange Alumnus, Fall 2019.

Damian Radcliffe is Carolyn S. Chambers Professor of Journalism and Professor of Practice in University of Oregon, USA.

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