Behind the Curtains: The Burdens of Reporting During a Pandemic

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By way of illustration, while my editor and I were discussing the format of this article, people all over social media were part of an immense debate whether ibuprofen makes the current pandemic worse or not (this article has no intention of resolving this dilemma itself).

How to report during the a pandemic
Journalist holding the microphone taking notes

Reporting during a world crises

Breaking news, live streaming news videos, reading the updates on online media, all these activities currently seem to determine the structure of your whole day.

While a large part of Europe – and significant parts of the world – are almost in lockdown during the pandemic, we see doctors, police forces, and…often under-appreciated journalists still working. They carry on their shoulders the burden of reporting and giving life-saving information during the emergency.

We would agree on the unique importance of reporting the news without causing public panic, while briefing people on the significance and seriousness of this matter.

In this article, journalists, editors and experts in the communication field will elaborate on the role of the media during such times. Specifically, how journalists can contribute to a better-informed society, with an emphasis on episodes of global crisis. How hard it is to sort the news, and understand the challenges that media outlets have during such times. They will further discuss the role of online media in the crisis and how different media outlets are coping with this severe situation.

Extreme situations like this one prove yet again that journalism is essential to democracy

Marília Gehrke, Journalist and Doctoral Candidate in Communication at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), located in Porto Alegre, Brazil, who is continually following the updates on the pandemic, begins the conversation with Youth Time by saying that Brazilian news websites that could formerly be accessed only by subscription are now open for everyone.

According to her, actions like these are indispensable to ensure high-quality information and to avoid the spread of misinformation.

Marilia Gehrke / Photo: Gabriel Caldana

Besides the essential focus on health, one objective is to avoid writing alarmist headlines. The focus should be on prevention. People are scared, and they need to be informed, not thrown into a panic. Extreme situations like this one, one more time, prove that journalism is essential to democracy. I believe journalists can contribute to a better-informed society when they use data and graphics to explain the virus’s spread. People must understand that they need to stay at home, or the situation will be even worse. It is also necessary for the professionals to double-check any information received,” she says.

There are a lot of reporters doing a great job, and people should trust them

The crucial point seems to be to communicate high-quality information through social media, given that part of the population accesses information only through platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook. The challenge is to deliver accurate information to those who usually do not read the news or do not believe in journalism”, Gehrke says. She emphasizes, “There are a lot of reporters doing a great job, and people should trust them.”


the priority should not be to increase the number of followers for the news outlets but to inform society


Gehrke acknowledges that it is tough work to decide what needs to be published and what is alarmism in this situation.

At this moment, the priority should not be to increase the number of followers for the news outlets but to inform society. Before publishing anything, journalists should ask: Am I contributing to clarifying the situation about the virus? How can I write a proper headline and avoid adjectives? Do I have data that support my text, or is it based only on perceptions? How can I be creative and choose pictures that are informative, but not alarmist? And once journalists are dealing with data provided by the government, they must demand transparency. […]

According to her, journalism is a public service, and reporters must keep that in mind.

There is a lot of useful information on how to wash the hands correctly and other practices to prevent contamination. Moreover, news articles are also focusing on why it is essential to stay at home and not keep in touch with people over 60 years old and those who have other conditions that make them more vulnerable.

We all need to be aware that this is not only flu. Furthermore, I think it is time to invest in media literacy for people to be critical in their analysis. Some people only criticize the news while believing in every sentence they receive through social media.”

 

For journalists it is important not to give in to panic, without minimizing the facts

From Brazil, the author of this article virtually went to France, to talk with Hermine Costa, a French TV Reporter.

Costa believes that in a situation like this, journalists must more than ever give voice to “those who know” in order to inform the population as clearly as possible.

Hermine Costa / Photo: Irene Costa

In France, we currently use social networks a lot: people can ask their questions on Twitter for instance, and the journalists answer the question with the help of health specialists. But social networks are also a vehicle for fake information. It is difficult for journalists to sort through, especially since sometimes nobody knows the truth since scientific research takes time to be done. It is important for journalists not to give in to panic, without minimizing the facts.”

Furthermore, according to her, if the media are also there at the moment to ensure that government decisions are respected, it is important that journalists maintain their critical spirit at all costs.

Finally the role of journalists is also to tell what is happening at the moment, in articles, radio reports, TV reports so that our contemporaries know what is happening in our hospitals, in cities, in the streets, in the stores… But also so that our children, our grandchildren retain a connection to this historical moment that we’re currently living,” Costa concludes.

‘Constructive journalism’ focuses on the bright side of a given situation

Përparim Isufi, Editor at BIRN Kosovo initially says that no matter the circumstances, the speed of the news publication should not overcome the process of verifying the news itself.

Përparim Isufi /Photo: Atdhe Mulla

In these times of various media forms, with emphasis on social media, it is impossible not to have fake news, or news that affects the psychological well-being of people. The situation in Kosovo is no exception. […] There are several cases when online news portals cause public uncertainty with fake sensational news. The media I work for, KALLXO.com has established a project of ‘The truth meter’ (Original in Albanian; Kryptometri), through which we illustrate media lies as well, which are not rare.”

He shares with us an emerging domain within journalism called ‘Constructive journalism’, which involves the field of communication focused on the bright side of a given situation.

In this case this form of journalism ought to be practiced as well.”

Generally speaking there is an ongoing debate regarding media reporting during periods of war or crisis. This a very rare situation for which we do not have special rules, except the standard ones that exist to offer a strong foundation on which the work of each journalist or media should be grounded.

In conclusion, Isufi asserts that even though some headlines may seem harsh or bitter, still some are within their rights to believe that this way of describing the phenomenon is within the allowed boundaries of media ethics.

As mentioned previously in my piece “Data Journalism: Is the Norm of Objectivity Already Subverted? Experts Opinion”, having had experience in journalism, I have put on myself a moral duty of acknowledging the hard work of journalists. Taking this into account, this article serves as a modest contribution toward creating and maintaining a better environment for working journalists.

Title photo: Shutterstock

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