The Covid-19 driven economic slowdown and lockdown restrictions transformed the way journalists work while forcing many news organisations to downsize.
Although consumers need news now more than ever, advertisers are cutting budgets forcing numerous local stations to downsize, digital media companies to furlough staff, and global news providers to adjust their cross-border operations.
“The pandemic limits the way you send journalists to report, and changes how we work as an organization,” John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, told the International Press Institute at the World Congress 2020. Micklethwait acknowledged the difficulties of accessing stories on an international level under movement restrictions, but also the “panic that spreads when politicians are dealing with a world they don’t understand. The virus proved to be difficult for them to deal with”.
To reinstate authority after the panic, governments strived to provide their people with prompt life-saving data, leading to a key area of contention between government and news, according to Stephen J. Adler, editor-in-chief of Reuters: “We have enormous responsibility to be accurate and hold governments accountable,” he said “but when we use unofficial sources such as hospitals or healthcare professionals to provide accurate numbers, governments often try to introduce legal restrictions on publishing non-governmental numbers on the grounds of national security”.
Although most countries are now facing a similar challenge with Covid-19, “there isn’t much international cooperation” but rather nationalisation and politicisation of the situation according to Micklethwait. For Adler, journalists have become collateral damage to growing tensions between nations on the backdrop of the pandemic and other political crises, with the retaliation war between China and the U.S, deportation of foreign journalists from Belarus and Hong-Kong’s visa restrictions being some of the most prominent examples.
Adler believes nationalism isn’t the only obstacle for press freedom in 2020. “These days, governments can use social media to speak directly to their people,” suggesting that politicians no longer need the press to tell their story. Furthermore, “the vilification of the press through public anti-press statements undermines trust in the media and inspires an increase of hostility on the streets towards journalists at work,” he said. Adler admitted that the “press is partially responsible for polarization,” and emphasized the importance of remaining objective while reporting on an international scale. “There are three principles,” concluded Michlethwait, “report the news, remain within the law, and protect your journalists”.
While there are no definitive solutions to distrust in the media, spread of misinformation and governmental hostility, Micklethwait said “opinion and news should be kept apart – you can dispute opinions, but not facts”. Adler added that “teaching media literacy in schools and giving people tools to trace back sources could be very helpful”. And as for what news providers can do now, Adler suggested to “keep news judgment objective and pristine, that’s the best way to serve your customer”.