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“Key to reimagining post-pandemic journalism”: Challenges unleashed by the pandemic have also unveiled real opportunities

The pandemic has been tough on journalism, to say the least. Journalists have had to endure financial instability, deteriorating mental health and threats to physical safety among other challenges, according to a new report, Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts by the ICFJ.

It has not all been doom and gloom though, as journalists surveyed reported perceiving increased audience trust (43%) and engagement (38%). Also 61% of the journalists reported an increased sense of commitment to journalism.

Despite the challenges, a significant opportunity exists for journalism as a field to build on the renewed levels of mission, audience engagement and clearly demonstrated need for accountability reporting the pandemic has highlighted. 

Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

The report, authored by Dr. Julie Posetti (ICFJ), Professor Emily Bell (Tow Center) and Dr. Pete Brown (Tow Center) is based on a large-scale global survey (125 countries) of journalists (1400+) by the International Center for Journalists and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. 

The respondents range from news reporters to editors and CEOs – the authors use the term ‘journalists’ in a generic sense, to represent the broader spectrum of respondents.

Source: Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

“Guide the future of journalism”

The study seeks to assess the impact of the pandemic on journalism worldwide and make evidence-based recommendations to inform the post-pandemic recovery. 

As journalism faces a potential “extinction event,” this work is urgently needed. The research allows us to identify challenges and help guide the future of journalism in the face of an unprecedented convergence of threats.

Dr. Julie Posetti, Global Research Director, ICFJ

Here are the highlights:

70% of the respondents rated the psychological and emotional impacts of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis as the most difficult aspect of their work. 67% identified concerns about financial hardship as a significant difficulty. They were followed by intense workload, social isolation and the risk of actually contracting the virus.

Source: Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

The economic fallout of the crisis has been significant. 17% of the respondents said that revenue at their companies had plummeted more than 75% during the first three months of the pandemic. 89% reported that their news organization had enacted at least one COVID-19 related austerity measure (including job losses, salary cuts and outlet closures). 

Source: Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

On top of all this, journalists have been enduring increasing attacks – on and offline – as governments and other antagonists try to discredit them and roll-back press freedom. 20% said their experience of online abuse, harassment, threats or attacks was “much worse than usual.”  3% said they’d been physically attacked while working and a similar number had been detained, arrested or charged.

Increasing dis/misinformation has compounded the problems with around 28% of the respondents saying that they encounter disinformation several times a day. Meanwhile 35% said that they face it many times a week. 

Source: Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

The top sources of disinformation include regular citizens (49%), political leaders and elected officials (46%), and  government agencies and their representatives (25%). Among platforms Facebook leads at 66%, followed by Twitter (42%) and Whatsapp (35%) for enabling the spread of COVID-19 disinformation.  

Moreover, 46% of the respondents said they are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with social media companies’ responses to the content that they had flagged for investigation. 

Proactive measures used by journalists

Many journalists are responding proactively to counter the ‘disinfodemic’. 29% of the respondents said that they were producing fact-checks and debunks. A similar number said they were using digital verification tools to expose false video, images and memes. And 20% had collaborated with other news organizations, NGOs or academics to investigate COVID-19 disinformation.

Source: Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

Journalists have also reported making more use of digital tools and online communities to report (67%) and engage audiences (38%). 22% said they were collaborating more frequently with their audiences on verification within online communities. 11% reported tapping more heavily into the expertise of readers, subscribers and members. There were also positive signs that audiences had been more proactively engaged in these processes as well.

Newsgathering is “more audience-centered, with some evidence of deepening of relationships between journalists and their communities among our respondents.”

Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

43% of the respondents said they perceived increased audience trust in their journalism or their news organization during COVID-19’s first wave. 38% said they had experienced increased largely positive audience engagement. And 61% said they felt more committed to journalism than they were before the pandemic. On the personal front, 46% expressed an increased appreciation for family and friends, and a deeper appreciation of life (42%).

Source: Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

“Real opportunities here for journalists”

“These comparatively optimistic findings may be key to reimagining post-pandemic journalism as a more mission-driven and audience-centered public service,” the authors suggest. 

The most significant need identified by respondents was funding (76%) to cover operating costs (including salaries). There is also a strong demand for training on new technologies to support remote reporting and publishing (67%), advanced verification and fact-checking (67%), and science and medical/health reporting (66%). 

“These responses should help inform donors and other organizations seeking to support critical, independent journalism through the COVID-19 crisis,” the authors write.

Source: Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts

They add that despite the challenges “there are real opportunities here for journalists to become more inventive and inclusive in how they reach audiences and become more relevant to their daily lives.” 

However they need support to accomplish better quality journalism. Addressing their needs (the chart above), “along with those related to mental health and physical safety – is vital to avoid compounding the damaging impacts of COVID-19 on journalism as the pandemic wears on.” 

The full report can be downloaded from ICFJ:
Journalism and the pandemic: A global snapshot of impacts