Journalists suffer under pandemic

Media practitioners facing tidal wave of challenges

07 December 2020 | Social Issues

Windhoek • [email protected]

A global survey of more than 1 400 journalists in 125 countries raised red flags for the media in the Covid-19 era.
The international survey, released in October, found that while the pandemic awakened a renewed zeal for their jobs and re-established the need for a vibrant press in the community, the health crisis inflamed a sector already in crisis and took a heavy mental toll.
A majority of journalists - 70% - said the mental health impact of the pandemic was the most pressing challenge during the pandemic, above financial concerns. Job losses, pay cuts and uncertain futures come in at a close second, with 67% of journalists worried about unemployment and other financial implications, while 64% worried about the intense workload, including unpaid overtime.
The authors of the survey titled ‘Journalism and The Pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts’, said the findings of the survey are “both startling and disturbing”.
Based on 1 406 responses, the researchers said “we can conclude that many journalists covering this devastating human story, at great personal risk, were clearly struggling to cope”.
The study highlighted a number of paradoxes, including the fact that while “a serious mental health crisis” topped the list of challenges faced by the press, they also experienced an increased sense of commitment to the importance of their jobs, while valuing friends and family increased and they felt a “deeper appreciation for life”.

Earlier this year, the International Centre for Journalists teamed up with the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University to better understand the impact of the pandemic on newsrooms and journalists in particular.
The stress journalists felt was compounded in many places “by the fact that employers were evidently failing to adequately support them, and not only in the area of mental health”.
“Employers appear to have failed in the duty of care at the most basic level”, they found. This included providing appropriate safety equipment to prevent reporters from contracting or spreading the coronavirus, while 84% of respondents reported that they did not receive appropriate technical equipment such as extended boom microphones or other accessories that would have enabled conducting safe interviews at a distance.
Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, a report partner, the authors of the survey wrote: “Among the most striking findings of the survey is how the crisis of Covid-19, combined with the dire economic and political atmosphere for news, which predated the pandemic, has transformed the personal experience of the press.
“Their environment is painfully difficult, marked by a startling amount of psychological and financial pressure. The daunting stress is an obstacle to accountability journalism, thoughtful structural changes to newsrooms, and the industry at large.”
They stressed that the survey “paints a picture of a profession absorbed in essential work amid a decreased sense of security and an overwhelming amount of mis- and disinformation that the dominant technology platforms have failed to confront”.
Also, that a free and vibrant press not only needs protection from violence, harassment and political interference, but is in urgent need of “financial support and a more rigorously regulated information environment”.
“There is no doubt, based on our survey, that the pandemic is having a major effect on the sustainability of news publishers and the job security of journalists.”
The majority of journalists confirmed they had been impacted by at least one austerity measure, from outlet closures, reduced print runs, salary cuts, lay-offs and unpaid overtime.

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