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The pandemic’s impact on journalists: Key findings from a new report

The pandemic’s influence on media business is already well-documented in numerous reports and research studies, but what’s the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of individual journalists? The intuitive response would be, “probably not great” — and empirical data increasingly confirms it.

This week, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University published the first report under the “Journalism and the Pandemic Project” series, summarizing the results of a global survey of journalists. We picked six key findings presented in the report.

1. The pandemic has taken a toll on journalists’ psychological condition

According to the survey, 70% of respondents believe that the psychological and emotional impacts of dealing with the pandemic present the most difficult aspect of their work. Concerns about unemployment and financial issues comes second in the list of difficulties faced by journalists — 67% cited it.

Two-thirds of respondents “reported multiple negative mental health impacts” as a result of the corona-crisis. The most widespread negative reactions are increased anxiety, as well as exhaustion and burnout. One-third said they felt vicarious trauma from being exposed to the suffering of others online.

2. Employers provide too little support

Despite the widespread problems, media companies often do not provide enough support to workers. 22% of respondents said their employers had not provided any “measures to support mental health/alleviate burnout”. Almost no one offers support dealing with online harassment or psychological counseling.

Apart from mental support, a notable number of employers have not even provided such basics as protective equipment; that’s the case for 30% of respondents. (The survey ran in May and June; hopefully, some media companies used the summer to prepare resources to help reporters deal with the fall outbreak).

3. Most employers have suffered big financial losses

Perhaps one of the reasons some employers have failed to provide comprehensive support to reporters is that the companies themselves have been bleeding financially. Among respondents with knowledge of their companies’ financial situation, 80% reported their outlets had seen revenue declining by more than 25%. For 17% of respondents, the declines are over 75%.

4. “Attacked, abused, detained, censored and restricted”

In many countries the pandemic worsened the situation with press freedom. 14% of respondents felt direct censorship of reporting in some way, and 10% have been abused by a public figure for doing their work. Online harassment has also become much worse, as witnessed by 20% of respondents.

Furthermore, journalists’ sources have become more restrained — 48% of respondents said their sources had expressed concerns of retaliation for speaking with journalists during the pandemic.

5. Disinformation has come from politicians

Most respondents reported having encountered misinformation multiple times a day or a week — which is not that surprising given the nature of their work. What is more worrisome, politicians and elected leaders were identified as top sources of disinformation (by 46%). Government agencies and state-supported online trolls are also on the list.

6. Good news: the pandemic has increased trust in, and commitment to, journalism

To make the picture less gloomy, there’s also some good news. First, according to the report, “[the] respondents’ perceptions of audience trust – an issue critical to journalism’s future – is surprisingly strong” as 43% of respondents believed trust had increased; only 4% thought trust had declined.

Journalists reported more engagement with their stories than usual and more positive feedback from readers. 61% of respondents expressed increased commitment to journalism as a result of the pandemic.

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