Journalists and the media played a major role in reporting important developments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after the lockdowns and social distancing guidelines were in place, the public relied on the media to keep them up to date on how the situation was unfolding.
The extreme isolation imposed by the lockdowns led to people watching, listening, and reading the news more than ever before.
Social media also showed a strong increase in usage since people were often not allowed to visit each other. Of course, plenty ignored the extremely restrictive rules during the worst of the lockdowns, but even if people were visiting friends and family in their own homes, it was very hard to socialize with others with restaurants and bars essentially shut down.
COVID-19 definitely had an impact on journalism and how stories were approached. Some changes are here to stay as they were found to have some benefits that were impossible to ignore.
While COVID-19 led to many people turning to journalists for information, it also led to a great number abandoning traditional media outlets and becoming more receptive to independent and alternative news sources.
Lack of trust in the mainstream media is perhaps the biggest challenge journalists face in the future. Trust is incredibly hard to regain when lost, especially when the lack of trust occurs due to reporting during such a cataclysmic time in history.
That being said, people will continue to rely on journalists and media outlets to keep them informed and bring attention to their own problems in their communities.
Here are a few of the ways journalism has developed since COVID-19 entered our lives.
Zoom and remote working
During COVID-19, even journalists that regularly reported to offices worked remotely from home due to social distancing measures. This meant that some journalists spent 1-3 years of their careers working from home when typically, they might have been traveling all over to conduct interviews, research stories, and more.
Meetings with coworkers and managers via Zoom, Google Meet, and other networking platforms have become normalized in the world of media.
More use of company management and communications software such as Slack or Airtable
With so many people working remotely and sometimes on the same projects, journalists and media companies use workplace platforms like Slack to stay organized and send private communications to coworkers. These platforms helped journalists stay more organized and made it easier for supervisors and others to keep track of projects and offer support.
While working remotely may seem like it reduced communication, the truth is that with so many people used to communicate using social media and texting, platforms such as these actually increased the likelihood that coworkers would communicate with each other on important issues.
Journalists conduct more research and interviews remotely
While there are still a lot of in-person interviews, it is more common for reporters and journalists to conduct interviews and research using web conferencing software. In some ways, this helps journalists reach more sources and subjects with higher comfort. There are plenty of people that while they will not meet a journalist somewhere, will answer questions from the comfort of their own home or business with the reassurance that if they want to end the interview, they merely have to disconnect, not ask someone to leave or leave a location themselves.
Journalists started reporting more data
COVID-19 led to journalists using more hard statistics and data. In some cases, reporters and journalists even helped compile local data. Daily tallies of caseloads and recovery rates definitely played a major role in media reports.
Independent journalists and news source readership grew exponentially
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned away from traditional media sources entirely, or they at least started reading, watching, and listening to many independent or alternative media sources. Even podcasters and media personalities previously seen as “far out there” saw a huge increase in viewers and readers.
COVID caused many people to question the authenticity and validity of major news networks and journals. The constantly evolving situation and the stress of lockdowns and restrictions led to a lot of distrust and suspicion among large portions of the public, regardless of political affiliation.
Some publications were forced to lay off many journalists and other employees
Some media outlets suffered such a decline in readership that they had to reconsider how they ran their publication. This was at least in part caused by a lack of trust in some sources, the choice of topics covered, and readership shifting over to other news sources.
Of course, this meant that quite a few journalists found themselves having to seek other work during a time when jobs in the industry were not as plentiful.
There are more opportunities for those entering journalism
Since independent news sources are more widely trusted, journalists have more opportunities. Many people who want to pursue a career in media choose to do so independently via freelance projects, video streaming via YouTube and other sites, and podcasting.
If you want to be a journalist, there are many paths you can take. Here are a few suggestions for starting your career.
Consider some formal education
If you intend to work for small to large media outlets, it will be much easier to obtain a position if you have some education related to journalism or creative writing. An actual journalism degree is often a job requirement at larger media companies. An online masters in journalism can work well for those who want to gain their degree on a flexible schedule. St. Bonaventure offers a journalism program that can lead to your degree in just 18 months.
Find freelance writing jobs to hone your writing skills
Freelance writing is a great way to earn some extra money while increasing your writing and editing skills. Employers like to see writing samples, especially those with your name in the byline. While some of these articles may not be news, they can showcase how well you use the written language.
Any opportunities you have to submit or contribute to magazines and newspapers should be utilized. Plenty of magazines are always looking for guest contributors. Pay can vary based on the magazine. It is best to start with smaller and less well-known publications to build up your writing portfolio. As you gain experience and recognition, larger publications will be more likely to accept your pitch for any writing assignment.
Get a job or internship at a smaller publication
It may be easier to get a journalism job at a smaller publication, especially if you are willing to relocate. Plenty of people have got their start in journalism by finding a position that offers them a fantastic opportunity to get bylines with their name on it and gain readership that can follow them if they move on to a position at another media outlet.
Network with other journalists
A lot of writing opportunities come through great networking. If you have friends within media, it can open a lot of doors. Sometimes jobs and freelance article opportunities are not widely advertised. LinkedIn, journalism organizations, and writing groups are all great places to meet others passionate about journalism.
Consider what type of journalism you want to do
Journalists do not just write articles. Plenty of journalists also do podcasts and videos. You do not have to limit yourself to one type of media. In fact, many journalists are sure to include audio and videos within written articles published online. Since most people get all their news via online sources, this is a great way to make sure that you hold someone’s attention. While your article may not be read in its entirety, someone may watch the videos or listen to the audio. Either way, you are drawing in potentially long-term readers or visitors to your publication’s site.
Social distancing and working remotely led to greater journalistic independence
In some ways, journalists experienced more artistic freedom and encouragement to pursue their own stories. No longer were journalists at major news outlets tied down by the processes that had become routine in the newsroom.
Rather than having to work with a larger team in an office environment, journalists were forced to figure out the best way to approach stories and news without a huge team surrounding them. This led to a lot of personal and professional growth for some journalists.
Challenges of journalism during COVID-19
COVID-19 presented journalists with some considerable challenges. Learning how to navigate these challenges has led to journalists being more capable of reporting accurate stories from a distance and increased attention to detail.
Getting facts straight remotely can be difficult, even for an experienced journalist
Travel restrictions and social distancing made it impossible for journalists to cover some stories and news on the scene where it is easier to get accurate facts. As a result, journalists had to learn to be very meticulous when it came to reporting any detailed information, while it was always a good idea to double-check facts and verify the credibility of any sources. While it was possible to do all of this remotely, there were definitely times when distance made it more challenging.
Travel restrictions reduced the scope of many journalists
There were some strict travel restrictions during COVID-19. The lack of ability for journalists to travel within their own country, let alone internationally, led many journalists to limit the scope of their projects or at least change how they approached them. Not being able to be on the scene made articles and reporting seem less authentic to some.
Some people were fearful of any interaction whatsoever
While wearing a mask was required or recommended for basically every type of social interaction, plenty of people completely isolated themselves out of fear of contracting COVID-19. This level of fear made it difficult for journalists to do any interviews, even under relatively safe conditions like outside.
Journalism was totally centered on COVID and any associated problems
Many journalists found that they had to concentrate on topics that were about COVID-19 or related to the problems caused by it. These topics included:
Supply chain and shortages
During COVID-19, the public was very interested in supply chain issues and shortages. When citizens went to the grocery store, they were shocked to see that some items were simply not available or severely limited. These shortages were of everyday items that no one was used to seeing in short supply.
While many media sources tried to blame hoarding for these issues, other journalists dove deeper into the story. They discovered the many complicated causes behind the shortages, thus giving the public a better understanding of the true scale of the problems everyone had to face when it came to getting the goods they were used to having whenever they wanted.
Lack of medical supplies and care
The pandemic highlighted just how severe the lack of healthcare workers is within the United States and many other developed countries. With a large population of older adults, many healthcare systems were already overloaded, and then COVID-19 hit, and more people than ever of all ages needed serious medical care conducted with medical supplies that were suddenly in short supply.
Civil unrest and political divide
While COVID was still tearing through society, there was a lot of civil unrest related to people being upset by what they claimed was excessive police brutality and racism.
Other divides created a society that was much more divisive than before COVID-19. Protests related to the civil rights of other groups that felt marginalized and discriminated against, resulted in people becoming even more estranged from one another than before.
Political divides also seemed to be greater than ever before. With left and right forming very distinct lines with very little room for those in between, it was inevitable that unrest would occur during a time of unprecedented stress.
Increased substance abuse and domestic violence
The stress of the pandemic led to an increase in substance abuse in people from all walks of life. The massive increase in overdoses and the associated costs and consequences of drug abuse became a major topic for journalists wishing to cover the aspects of COVID-19 beyond just the disease itself.
This included covering the mental health crisis that resulted from many people being isolated entirely from others during the worst parts of the lockdown. Those that were suffering from mental issues before often suffered increased symptoms. Journalists helped bring attention to this level of suffering, and as a result, more groups and resources stepped in to offer help and support to those suffering as well as their families.
The future of journalism
The future of journalism is bright. With more opportunities than ever and a more open-minded public, there is a ton of potential for more investigative journalism and well-rounded pieces.
As older journalists retire or at least write less, there is room for new and upcoming journalists to lead the way in the future of media.
With COVID-19 in the past, the world is concentrating on recovering economically and socially. This means there will be plentiful opportunities for journalists to help by covering the process and helping people learn how to work together.
Journalists will cover the continuing crisis in cities and communities
The increased problems in substance abuse, crime, political and social division, and the flight of many from the cities are but a few of the problems journalists will cover for a long time.
By sharing the challenges others face, journalists can help draw attention to problems that can lead to help and solutions from outside sources. One must also remember that it can be difficult for some to realize how bad a problem is if they are somewhat insulated from it due to their status in society or being somewhat removed from the location, such as living in a different neighborhood in the same city.
Journalists will begin to travel more
Most travel restrictions have been lifted, but the United States still requires vaccination against COVID-19 to travel internationally. While many people are vaccinated, many have chosen not to stay up to date due to distrust or medical issues. So, while travel for many will increase, some journalists will choose to stay within the US and work remotely in some cases.
COVID-19 led to some practices becoming more accepted. Journalism played a pivotal role in reporting the pandemic and keeping the public informed on a constantly changing situation.
While COVID-19 presented many challenges to journalists used to freedom to travel and ease of reporting on the scene, it also helped encourage new and innovative approaches.
In the future, journalists will undoubtedly continue to use some of the practices they learned during COVID-19, but there is already a return to more traditional methods for conducting interviews and research.