Indonesian media turn to positive news as COVID-19 continues to claim lives
With millions of Indonesians relying on media for information around COVID-19, we talked to three local journalists about how their coverage of COVID-19 has evolved.
When the COVID-19 outbreak was first discovered in Wuhan in December 2019, Indonesian media outlets scrambled to cover the news. The aim was to inform but not spread panic.
‘’We first covered the news when it was still referred to as the Wuhan virus earlier this year,’’ said Ahmad Nurhasim, the Science and Health Editor at The Conversation (Indonesia).
The Conversation publishes stories written by the academic and research community. It is perhaps no surprise that many Indonesians turned to The Conversation (Indonesia) for information. The media outlet’s visitors sharply increased.
In 2019, The Conversation (Indonesia) was visited by around 200,000 visitors per month. ‘’So far this year, we’ve had an average of 800,000 visitors per month,’’ Ahmad said.
Its articles on COVID-19 - which can be republished by other media outlets under a creative commons license - have reached at least eight million readers.
An increase in readership does not mean The Conversation (Indonesia) will make more revenue from advertising, since it does not seek profit.
‘’After the virus was spread to multiple countries, we started publishing articles about it from different angles. Not only from public health or epidemiology perspective, our writers also talked about risk communications and even the history of pandemics,’’ he said.
Articles examined business sectors hit hard by COVID-19 such as airlines and hotels and topics such as leadership, public policy and political decision making around the virus. Pitches from academics quadrupled, he said.
Another media outlet, Liputan6.com has also seen an increase in readership on COVID-19 stories. Fitri Haryanti Harsono, a Health Journalist at the media outlet, explained that an article can receive up to 500,000 views.
‘’Articles about used medical face masks that were resold was also one of the most popular on our website. Readers are also curious about medication and vaccines, they want to know about medications such as chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and favipiravir,’’ she said.
Fitri said the health desk at Liputan6.com has reduced covered stories on other health topics, such as sexual health, since the media outlet’s sole focus is now on the pandemic.
‘’Normally, the stories on sexual health are published after 9pm,’’ she said so that younger audience will not come in contact with adult content.
Covering COVID-19 is also a challenge because so much of the news is negative - rising death tolls, lack of personal protective equipment for medical workers and people losing their jobs due to the pandemic.
Fitri said she and her team are careful not to use adjectives when writing and translating articles on COVID-19.
‘’We refuse to use words like fatal disease when translating articles from foreign news agencies because the tone in Indonesian can create panic among readers,’’ she said, adding that the media outlet also does articles on the importance of solidarity to recognize the health workers.
‘’We are seeing that readers have become interested in articles that have a positive tone, articles that spark hope such as when will the outbreak end and also vaccines,’’ said Uyung Pramudiarja, the Managing Editor for the health desk of Detik.com.
He also said human interest articles from Detik.com’s contributors from different cities across Indonesia are well-received. One example is free rapid testing by Luwu Timur administration in the province of South Sulawesi.
‘’We try to be balanced. We can publish articles that can spark hope, but we also have a duty to inform the public,’’ he said.