Telum Talks To… Peggy Giakoumelos, Cross Platform Journalist at SBS News

Telum Talks To… Peggy Giakoumelos, Cross Platform Journalist at SBS News

Since February 2020, you have almost exclusively covered the COVID-19 pandemic for the SBS COVID podcast. Can you tell us a bit about this podcast project?
SBS News radio does two daily COVID-19 wraps - one covers Australian pandemic news, while the other covers the pandemic from an international perspective. I predominantly work on the Australian wrap and have produced about 310 episodes since March last year. With two team members a day working on either the Australian or international wrap, we’ve delivered approximately 600 or so episodes during that time.

Both podcast wraps are between 5 and 10 minutes long. The Australian wrap is a straight, succinct summary of case numbers, deaths, restrictions, hotspots and vaccine roll-out information, drawing from the press conferences of the day. We also provide original interviews with SBS journalists across the organisation on what they have covered in relation to COVID-19, especially with people working in multicultural communities.

The wraps are available on the SBS website, as well as SBS News In Depth, which can be accessed on major podcasting platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. They are also shared across SBS Radio’s language services. A conservative estimate shows there have been roughly 6,500 in-language translations of our daily wraps since we started releasing them.

Who is your audience for this podcast, and what languages is it available in?
There are two audience groups for this service: the SBS News English language podcast audience and the more than 60 language services that make up SBS Radio. These listeners translate a transcript of the podcast into their own language to share with their communities.

The languages are hugely diverse, from Arabic to Mandarin, Vietnamese to Korean, major European languages to many languages from South Asia and African communities, including Swahili, Somali, Pacific languages such as Samoan, and many more.

This means everyone is on the same page about what we are reporting as an organisation when it comes to COVID-19. We offer straight information without sensationalism and our service is focused on facts, not opinion.

SBS’s reporting on COVID-19 has been focused on our role in informing communities and providing them with the essential information they need to stay safe and connected. In early 2020, we launched the SBS Multilingual Coronavirus Portal which is a hub where audiences can visit, select their chosen language, and access all our COVID-19 digital news and resources in that language in one place. Over the last year, around 7 million unique visitors have accessed SBS’s digital COVID-19 news and information across the network.

What has it been like covering the pandemic for so long, and do you have any tips for reporters who might be in the same situation?
It has been fast-paced, interesting, repetitive and exhausting. I’ve probably done half of my shifts from home in that time, due to various lockdowns, having to get tested and SBS generally keep staff numbers in the office to a minimum. SBS has been incredibly supportive throughout this time. Managers understand the challenges of reporting about a pandemic while you are living it.

My tips for reporters in the same situation, especially those working from home, would be to pick up the phone and chat to a colleague at least once a day, try to turn away from COVID-19 news when you are not working and implement a healthy routine to look after your wellbeing. Reach out to someone if it all gets too much. Even if holiday plans are limited for most of us, take time off to give yourself a rest from the news cycle.

What is the most impactful story you have reported on during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I found reporting on the deaths in a Greek nursing home in Melbourne last year difficult to cover. My parents are in that age group and are migrants from Greece, and it was heartbreaking to think about what it would be like to have sick parents close by, but not be able to see them, as was the case with many of those residents and their families.

Also, witnessing some of my colleagues lose loved ones in other states and overseas and not be able to be with them in their final moments or attend their funerals. The normal human rituals of grief have been completely disrupted by the pandemic.

What issues do you think are being underreported during this time?
I think there is a lot of confusion and fear about vaccines in different communities. We really try to present vaccine information that is clear, unbiased and fact-based for people who may not have access to a lot of news in English.

Also, the mental health impact on people, and what people can do to help themselves and others, should be covered more. Regardless of your background, this impacts us all.

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