The pandemic and its impact on journalists across BRICS countries

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It is almost impossible to find any industry or profession that has been immune to Covid-19. The pandemic has touched almost every sector in one way or the other, and its impact on journalism is immense.

Most journalists and newsrooms across the world have suffered due to the pandemic. Whether it’s burnout from working extra hours, layoffs, or fighting against the “infodemic” of fake news, this virus has taken a toll on the news industry.

The arrival of coronavirus made it difficult for publishers across the globe to find a sizable audience. With businesses paused or no longer willing to pay for advertisements, a vital part of the industry’s support system cracked, The New York Times reported.

However, while discussing with my 24 other fellow journalists about the impact of Covid-19 on the news sector across Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa at the BRICS Media Forum, I realised that the pandemic has not only disrupted their business models, but also their newsroom structure.

While smartphones and mobile technology made news gathering, live broadcasting and content distribution easier, working from home increased communication gaps and reduced productivity for some people.

Addressing the challenges faced while conducting virtual meetings, Olga Dmitrieva, from Russia’s Sputnik News, said: “Being a producer you can basically work from anywhere. All you need is a good smartphone with an internet connection and international roaming. So, for me, it was easy to adjust to the ‘new normal’.”

“However, during virtual meetings via Skype/Zoom, I always felt that you get more friendly while interviewing someone from home. So even business relations tend to become more open,” she added.

About how the virus upended the normal routines of life, Ilia Goncharov, from Sputnik News, said: “Before the pandemic, as a columnist, I often went to places, interviewed people, made reports, interacted with foreigners, artists, musicians, etc. But with the emergence of the novel Coronavirus, all of those things suddenly changed.

“It seemed like a joke, a bad dream, at first. However, when we came to our senses, we were able to get the job done. All the aspects of my work were then done under the prism of the epidemic. I studied how Moscow restaurants helped doctors from the Red Zone, how gyms started online training, etc. One of my most unusual experiences was at a painting exhibition by the famous Chinese artist Zhang Huang, who barely managed to send paintings to the Hermitage (a major art museum in St Petersburg) as all the museums in the country were closed. I interviewed him online and we both agreed that during these unprecedented times, what the world needs more is love.”

Highlighting the problems of the pandemic-induced restrictions, Zhao Zhao, from China’s Xinhua News Agency, said: “Due to the pandemic, the Chinese media industry was strongly impacted as many important events had to be cancelled, postponed or held virtually. Therefore, journalists in China missed having physical interviews or interactions with one another.”

On the challenges of remote news reporting, Rodrigo De Moraes Vargas Ramos from Brazil’s CMA group said: “The hardest part was staying away from the newsroom, and not physically meeting other journalists daily. However, our work itself was not harmed. We pulled off the same performance as we did in the newsroom.”

However, for Jehran Naidoo, from South Africa’s Independent Media, productivity had gone for a toss while working from home.

“Staying indoors affected me a lot. The four walls kept closing in on me. And that in turn affected my productivity to some extent. I became more agitated and less focused. Trying to find balance again was the new challenge I faced,” Naidoo said.

About how his journalistic work buckled under the pandemic pressure, he said: “I like interacting with people, hearing their voices. It intrigues me. But this very part, which made being a journalist such a cool job, was taken away from me and I had to adjust to a faulty internet connection and robotic voices on the other end of my screen.”

(Sukanya Saha can be contacted at sukanya.s@ians.in)

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