Journalism in the era of COVID-19

And where do we go from here?

Telum Media recently hosted a webinar, Journalism in the era of COVID-19, and where do we go from here? in association with The Walkley Foundation and hosted by Cisco Webex. You can view the full recording of the event here, or get in touch to sign up for future events here.

Key takeaways:
  • The coronavirus has increased the demand for news.
  • Journalists of the future will likely need to be multi-skilled to remain competitive in the industry.
  • Although the video and audio quality of TV journalism was challenged when journalists had to work from home, it created opportunities to connect with talent that wouldn’t usually have time to commute to newsroom headquarters.
From the summer’s bushfires, to the coronavirus pandemic, and now moving into an economic crisis, the first half of 2020 has been a rough innings for Australia, including the media industry.

The conversation in the webinar covered the changes in newsgathering during the virus, the evolution of the COVID-19 story, and its impact on the media industry.

Our panellists were:
  • Gaven Morris, Director of News, Analysis and Investigations at the ABC
  • Hugh Nailon, News Director at 9 News Melbourne
  • Gayle Tomlinson, Head of Audience at Australian Community Media
The impact of COVID-19 on newsgathering
Social distancing requirements nationwide mean newsrooms around the country have had to adapt their methods of investigating, producing and distributing news content. Gaven believes the industry could evolve into an “age of renewed honesty” because recent events have helped people re-focus on what is truly important, meaning audiences are more likely to demand greater levels of transparency from media.

Gayle added that being isolated from colleagues - and trying to conduct interviews from home with children - were key challenges of producing news in the period. She explained that more people working from home due to the coronavirus demonstrated that we can juggle having kids and a full-time job. It’s possible to publish top class journalism while having children around. 

The 9 News Melbourne newsroom was initially split into two teams to ensure the newsroom could continue to operate in the case of an infection, Hugh told listeners. He said the audience’s appetite for news for the first three to four weeks of the pandemic was “unprecedented”, particularly with political communications. “There has never been more interest in news”, he told the panel.

Hugh also said that the coronavirus pandemic forced the industry to get over “snobbery” about what makes a good television interview when it comes to picture and audio quality, given that many journalists had to broadcast from their homes. Even if a video broadcast isn’t at peak visual quality, it can still effectively deliver a message.

Where does the COVID-19 story go from here?
David Skapinker, Region Head for Australia and New Zealand at Telum Media, asked the panel how journalists can continue to fulfill their roles as watchdogs and hold the government accountable from a distance. How are political stories produced without the theatrics of question-time, which audiences are accustomed to seeing on television?

Gaven believes audiences were fed up with the “chinwaggery” of politics. Having “driven the public mad” over the last decade, Australian politicians are suddenly working together and focusing on problem solving for the issues at hand and thus public appreciation of politicians has grown. Gayle agrees that the national cabinet has worked effectively and with agility in responding to the crisis. Gaven says the public may have less of an appetite for day-to-day political conversations and exercise more interest in news about the “bigger issues” as Australia moves into a period of recovery.

The leftover impact of COVID-19 on the media industry
Gaven spoke about the “double challenge” of rapidly changing audience behaviour and quickly changing revenue models, combined with having fewer resources to work with.

Television production has become a much more cost effective practice due to the nature of remote work - there is less need to lug cameras, journalists and recording equipment across the country to chase a story when technologies like Zoom are connecting journalists at home with a broad array of spokespeople and talent.

Hugh explained that it’s been “less onerous” to convince a spokesperson to offer a few minutes of their time to talk to a journalist, because there isn’t a need to get made up and dressed up, and commute to the studio. Because travel expenses have dropped, Hugh said the newsroom has been “making more news than we ever have, with less”.

Gaven believes that going forward, possessing one great skill won’t be enough - journalists will require multiple skillsets. At the ABC, most journalists work across radio, television and online, for example. As the industry gets smaller, those who remain within it will have to tell stories in different ways.

Despite the challenges presented by shrinking funding, newsgathering under the pandemic’s social distancing requirements and broadcasting from home with kids, the journalism industry is pulling through, and reinforcing itself as an essential service to an audience that has never been more interested and reliant on quality news content. 

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