Australian’s are turning off the news more than ever to escape COVID-19 overload. But what does this mean for aspirational journalists? (Image Source: MEAA)
By Meika Bottrill | @meikabottrill
Since COVID-19, now when you turn on the news, the first thing you are guaranteed to see is death tolls, new cases and harsh lock down laws globally. Understandably, this means audiences are finding the need to turn off or avoid mass news consumption to ease their anxieties.
But what effect does this have on the future of journalism?
Buzzfeed news reporter Craig Silverman describes the effect of COVID-19 on the industry as a ‘media extinction event’ where budget cuts are forcing newspapers to lay off staff or close entirely.
While journalists—alongside medical professionals and educators—are considered essential workers, those that fund their organisations are not.
Newspapers and media organisations rely heavily on advertising, however as consumers are spending less during the pandemic, a large majority of advertising has been reduced.
In fact, some advertisers are actively choosing not to advertise, knowing their brands will feature alongside key ‘negative’ terms surrounding the coronavirus that are utilised in news publications.
Without advertising, this leaves media organisations to rely heavily on news subscriptions and paywalls. But, when some news publications still offer their content for free, paywalls are becoming less and less attractive to consumers and less sustainable for news organisations.
Dr Kathryn Bowd is the head of the Department of Media at the University of Adelaide with a focus of teaching journalism. She believes the survival of reputable news platforms is fundamental in providing information to the public and allowing them to separate truth from ‘fake news’.
“News media are a fundamental institution in a democracy, and a key provider of information, as well as being instrumental in setting the agenda for public debate,” she said.
“Removing that foundation would remove a key pillar of democratic function.”
When asked if COVID-19 has had any effect on the way journalists report, Dr Bowd believes that the principals of journalism remains the same.
“In terms of day-to-day practice – absolutely. More remote interviewing, more working from home, even more reliance on technology,” she said.
“But does this affect the fundamentals of what journalism is and how it works? No.
“One of the biggest challenges has been dealing with an enormous public appetite for news at a time when there is relatively little firm information and a huge amount of disinformation, but the basic principles of journalism still apply.”
So where does that leave students who want to embark in this field once they complete their studies?
Nikita Skuse, head editor of On The Record, is currently completing her final year in Bachelor of Journalism and Professional Writing at the University of South Australia.
Nikita believes that her passion for journalism stems from her interest in other people and their stories.
“I love to listen rather than speak so getting to interview people and hear their stories is so fascinating to me,” she said.
“I guess I’m just pretty nosey, to be honest, so journalism is kind of perfect for me in that way.”
On top of completing her final year at university, Nikita is also finding her way editing a student-run news publication during the era of COVID-19.
“I’m definitely not a natural-born leader so trying to step up into a leadership position suddenly has been super challenging,” she said.
“I’m really just winging it and learning on the job as I go, some days I think I do okay and some days I know I definitely could’ve done better but it’s a good kind of challenging though, it pushes me out of my comfort zone.”
On The Record’s 2020 team formed just after the University of South Australia decided to move study online for the remainder of the semester due to social distancing limitations.
This meant that the team never got the opportunity to meet each other face-to-face, instead pitching stories via Zoom.
“Right now is such a strange time for journalism because there isn’t a whole load of things to write about other than the virus,” Nikita said.
“It feels like we’re all writing regurgitations of the same stories [and] I wonder if lots of other people are getting sick of reading the same things at the moment like I am.”
Since COVID-19, Nikita has observed her own news consumption changing rapidly as she becomes more aware of the effect this has had on her mental health.
“At first I was watching every single press conference and reading every single article because I wanted to know what was coming to be prepared. Then … it started to panic me and I completely stopped consuming any news.”
Nikita believes the pandemic has shown her the importance of telling accurate news that is not sensationalised.
“Publishing over the top stories just to get views—which I’ve seen a lot of publications doing during the pandemic—is irresponsible and something I have learnt to be conscious of myself now as an editor.”
“Journalism is such an important job in society and we need good journalists who are passionate about telling stories.
“Just because journalism may seem bleak right now, I hope prospective students aren’t put off from studying it.”