Guest Column for the Star & Wave Newspaper
By RACHEL SHUBIN
COVID-19, has disturbed the American way of life. The economy and job market are at their worst in years. But facing a tough job market is nothing new to those who work in the media.
It is no secret that journalism is a tough field in which to work as more people turn away from print mediums to favor the often-instantaneous updates from websites and social media. Pandemic coverage is a priority, and for print newspapers it often means by the next morning or week, the new news is old news. So how do newspapers and journalists face a changing media landscape?
On May 15, I took a survey for the International Center for Journalists and Columbia University’s Tow Center for Journalism. The survey was dubbed “journalism and the COVID-19 pandemic: a global survey to track and assess impacts.” The 70th question asked, “if you could reimagine journalism after the pandemic, what would it look like?”
This question has stuck with me for weeks, as I have tried to think of an answer. Journalism is a field that needs to evolve with constantly changing technology and the volatile political landscape. The answer to this question could help prepare journalists for their field and sustain a healthy work environment.
Safely covering a public health crisis is not the typical training journalists receive during their education. On April 9, I attended a virtual lecture “Talks at Pulitzer” on the role of journalism during a pandemic, by Dr. Seema Yasmin. Yasmin is the Director of Stanford Health Communication Initative at Stanford University.
Yasmin’s three points included training health correspondents the same way war correspondents are trained, enabling them to ask better questions and avoid sensational headlines.
Secondly, the free press should function as an immune system, with journalism as part of the public health system. Misinformation can lead to xenophobia and exacerbate racism. For example, referring to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan flu” has intensified racism towards Asian Americans.
The last point of Yasmin’s lecture was if newsrooms do not cover the marginalized communities, they are missing diversity. Journalists need to do the groundwork to find good sources, vet them and get recommendations for other sources. Because the pandemic has reached far and wide, there are many stories in all types of communities, needing to be told.
Print journalists can tell more of these types of stories, as they are not as time-sensitive as the day-to-day reporting of numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. This gives print journalism an advantage to do a more in-depth reporting on a significant issue in our society.
The future of covering news, be it pandemics, riots, school shootings, or elections, is going to be done in a different format embracing lessons learned during social distancing. The way offices (of all kinds, not just newsrooms) are spaced will likely change in the coming months.
Separating cubicles, desks, or offices further apart will be necessary and it will change both the physical and mental wellbeing of employees.
For me, I automatically think of scenes from “All the President’s Men” when I think of a newsroom. Editors and writers standing around talking and conference rooms full of people holding daily briefings. It is not a sustainable model right now. Whether that means more people work from home or desks are spaced further apart, it will not be the same place where co-workers could chat over a cup of coffee at the lunch table.
Coronavirus has shown how many people are truly able to work from home. For some, working at home and avoiding the stressors of work has been beneficial to their mental health. Working in an office can serve as a boundary, allowing the day to start and end naturally. However, figuring out a work-from-home routine can be not only valuable for some, but even allow for more efficiency. It’s quite possible by the time offices resume in-person work, perhaps there will be more flexibility allowing staff to work from home on more than an occasional basis.
Seeking the truth should never be stopped, which is why journalism will always have a place serving as the watchdog of our society. Even if the format of reporting is not the same. Only time will tell how the field of journalism will truly change, but there will always be news needing to be reported.