COVID-19 IMPACT

Fear of unemployment pushing journalists into mental health crisis – Report

Many took salary cuts but employers failed to provide support systems.

In Summary

• The respondents also raised concerns about pandemic-induced unemployment, salary cuts, and outlet closures as news organizations took a huge revenue hit during the first phase of the crisis.

• In Kenya, it is estimated about 100 journalists have contracted the disease, some have recovered while others yet to recover.

Journalists during a press briefing
Journalists during a press briefing
Image: COURTESY

Many journalists covering the coronavirus pandemic across the globe are struggling to cope, a report has revealed.

The report by International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University paints an unsettling picture of burnt-out journalists in the grip of a mental health crisis, who are increasingly living in fear of unemployment.

The report indicates that journalists are working in a severely pressured financial, physical and psychological environment during the pandemic.

 

This, it says will be the most enduringly difficult professional period many have experienced during their careers.

 

According to the report, 70 per cent of journalists in the world have rated the psychological and emotional impacts of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis as the most difficult aspect of their work.

 Some 67 per cent identified concerns about financial hardship as a significant difficulty, while the intense workload is ranked the third biggest challenge, ahead of social isolation and the risk of actually contracting the virus.

The survey was conducted between May 13 and June 30 in 122 countries where some 1,406 respondents were interviewed.

Out of these, 53 per cent were women while 46 per cent male, 29 per cent being news reporters and 14 per cent top news editors.

Some 50 per cent of the respondents were drawn from the print, while 23 per cent from the digital outlets with 63 per cent being on full time employment, 25 per cent freelancers, 6 per cent part time and 6 per cent unemployed.

“The stress conveyed by these respondents is no doubt compounded by the fact that employers are evidently failing to adequately support them, and not only in the area of mental health,” the report said.

 

According to the survey, though journalists have been exposed to great risk of contracting the disease, many employers have failed in their duty to care by at the most basic level providing appropriate safety equipment to prevent frontline reporters from contracting or spreading coronavirus.

 

 Thirty per cent of the respondents said that their news organisations had not supplied field reporters with a single piece of recommended protective equipment.

In Kenya, it is estimated about 100 journalists have contracted the disease, some have recovered while others yet to recover.

Media Council CEO David Omwoyo told the Star that the data on how many journalists have been infected is not readily available because most newsrooms kept it as a private matter.

The respondents also raised concerns about pandemic-induced unemployment, salary cuts, and outlet closures as news organizations took a huge revenue hit during the first phase of the crisis.

“On top of all this, they are enduring increasing attacks - on and offline - as governments and other antagonists tried to discredit journalists and roll back press freedom under the cloak of the pandemic,” read part of the report.

The respondents identified the closure of news outlets (in some cases permanently), salary cuts, layoffs, increases in unpaid overtime, a reduction in working hours, shifts or assignments, print cessation and print-run contraction among biting austerity measures.

TOP FINDINGS AT A GLANCE

Journalism safety threats

70% of our respondents rated the psychological and emotional impacts of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis as the most difficult aspect of their work, and 82% reported at least one negative emotional or psychological reaction as a result of the pandemic.

30% said their news organizations had not supplied a single piece of protective equipment for field reporting.

20% said their experience of online abuse, harassment, threats or attacks was “much worse than usual.”

Financial (un)viability 

 17% of respondents with knowledge of their news organizations’ financial losses reported that revenue was down over 75% since the pandemic began, with 43% indicating that that revenue were down by over half.

 89% reported that their news organization had enacted at least one COVID-19 related austerity measure (including job losses, salary cuts and outlet closures).

7% reported that their outlets had ceased print editions and 11% reported reduced print runs due to the impacts of COVID-19-induced budget constraints.

URGENT NEEDS 

The most significant need identified by respondents (76%) was funding to cover operating costs (including salaries).

The results also highlight an urgent need for mental health support and interventions to help alleviate burnout.

And there is strong demand, too, for training on new technologies to support remote reporting and publishing (67%), advanced verification and fact checking (67%), and science and medical/health reporting (66%)

“As the world careens into COVID-19’s second wave, journalism is still reeling from the devastating impacts of the first stage of the pandemic,” the report read.

The report indicates that many of the respondents identified a serious failure in support systems.

They indicated that employers were providing very little support in general to journalists.

“There is evidence of neglect - from a vacuum of psychological counselling (85%) and burnout alleviation measures, to training and development failures, and the absence of social support,” the report said.

In the country, many journalists have been forced to come up with initiatives to help their colleagues who have been affected by the pandemic in one way or the other.

Many on WhatsApp groups have had to raise funds to support themselves with Media Council intervening in extreme situations.