The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting journalists’ health in ways that call for change in treating media workers. On the verge of anxiety and depression, journalists are not supported enough by their employers and are unable to cope with the stress of reporting the pandemic and staying physically safe and mentally sane.
These are the main takeaways from an international survey by the Journalism and the Pandemic Project. The report of the survey was published in October 2020 as collaboration between the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. Both organizations’ mission is to empower journalists through research, technology and training.
The survey asked 1,406 professionals from 125 countries about the impact of the first wave of Covid-19 on their wellbeing.
In terms of safety, the results showed that journalists were not provided with enough protection. According to the report, “Respondents indicated the widespread failure of employers to supply basic recommended safety equipment for field reporting.’’ Thirty percent of people did not receive a single piece of mouth-and-nose covering or sanitizer. Yet they still had to go out and do their job in high-risk areas.
This negligence by employers has disturbing consequences. So far, at least 866 journalists have died from Covid-19 in 69 countries, as stated by The Press Emblem Campaign, a consultant for the United Nations.
But it is not the fear of contracting the virus that torments journalists. In ICFJ’s inquiry, this concern ranked five among the difficult aspects of the crisis. The most challenging one was mental health, followed by worry for unemployment and financial impacts, as well as intense workload.
These issues were previously discussed in June 2020 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Toronto. The Institute is part of the University of Oxford and explores journalists’ future using data and debates. For this study, researchers interviewed 73 journalists covering Covid-19.
The results on mental health suggested that nearly three quarters of news workers were very stressed out. More than quarter of the people has “clinically significant anxiety compatible with the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder which includes symptoms of worry, feeling on edge, insomnia, poor concentration and fatigue.” This aligned with ICFJ’s study that added burnout, helplessness and depression to the list of common reactions to the pandemic.
“It has been somewhat ruinous to my own mental health and it is very difficult to not be able to unplug from it,” said Ed Young, a staff writer for the magazine The Atlantic in the video “Journalist as Essential Worker.” The video was created by The Pointer Institute, an American journalism school and research organization.
On financial stability, ICFJ said that “Two thirds of respondents reported feeling less secure in their jobs as a result of the pandemic.’’ “Respondents identified the closure of news outlets (in some cases permanently); salary cuts; layoffs; increases in unpaid overtime,” as devastating for the business.
In terms of workload, Reuters Institute outlined that more than half of the participants work longer hours and that there is more demand for stories.
The specifics of journalists’ work had also changed. According to Reuters’ study, “Only four percent of our respondents were specialist health reporters to begin with, but now 74 percent say they are reporting on health-related matters linked to the pandemic.” So, journalists have had to learn fast how to cover this new and complex topic.
Nikoleta Stefanova is majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Bulgaria. She respects the journalists who have to go out each day and risk their lives for people to stay informed.