How Indian Newsrooms Are Managing In The Time Of Coronavirus
While ‘work from home’ is the new mantra in times of Covid-19, not everyone is lucky enough to make money from the confines of their home.
An example is the newspaper industry, where editors, not necessarily reporters, have to compulsorily clock in at office, work hard, and run the risk of contracting the virus.
The Human Resources (HR) team of newspaper Economic Times, which is a part of The Times Group, recently sent an email to its staff. It said that the ongoing Corona pandemic poses unusual challenges for the publication, which are unlike even the Kargil war or the deluge in Mumbai.
“Time and again we have stepped outside our comfort zone as a business paper and have gone all out in covering major occurrences in the life of our country. Be it the Kargil war, the deluge in Mumbai in July 2005 or the terrorist attacks of 26/11, our journalists, reporters and the desk have pulled out all the stops to provide coverage we can be proud of years later. That's, of course, also true of our staple corporate coverage, be it the major corporate battles, big stock market crashes, election coverage and so on”.
“Covering the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic poses unusual challenges. The very act of gathering stories — and the seemingly simple task of getting to office — can potentially put colleagues at risk,” it said.
The email said, among other things, that reporters need not physically come to office and can file stories from anywhere.
Coronavirus pandemic has thrown up unusual challenges for the news gathering-and-disseminating industry, that has so far prided itself in being functional in the most adverse times.
The industry, however, can’t afford to halt the operations. Neither can it afford to empty newsrooms completely. The ‘desk’, that is, the production teams, continue to show up at offices. As the ET email says, “Work from home does not apply to desk and design due to both technical and logistical reasons”.
An experienced editor with The Times of India newspaper — another product from The Times Group — told Swarajya that the company has spaced out workstations to maintain distance.
In television newsrooms, production teams are bigger in size.
Sushant Sinha, senior news anchor-cum-deputy editor with India TV, told Swarajya that a staff of around 80-100 people is present in the studios in evenings, and that’s inevitable.
To tackle the crowds, the administration is sanitising workstations regularly, he said.
Unlike print journalists, TV journalists have to hit the field. “In TV, it’s a common practice that reporters don’t come to newsrooms at all. They straightaway go to the field and then their homes. But field visits are inevitable,” he said.
“The administration has given them masks and sanitisers, and instructed them that they must keep their health first.”
Sinha says in jest that he is craving for a ‘work from home’ option, but the TV news industry offers none.
The TV studios have an additional challenge in that they have guests turn up for discussions and debates, and some of them may have had a recent travel history. “The administration is checking for those details and taking the required measures,” Sinha says.
As readers can see, journalists across the country are managing to meet deadlines and gathering important information at a time when news appetites appear to be greater than ever in recent history.
Even the emails from HR teams across newsrooms are insisting on “highest degree of coordination” to ensure that “story misses are minimal”.
The Covid-19 pandemic is said to have claimed more than 10,000 lives worldwide. Italy is the worst affected with 4,000 deaths, followed by China, where it first broke out.
In India, it is said to have claimed four lives, while the total number of cases reported is around 270.
In the news industry, it is the tiny digital segment that seems to be working almost smoothly. They are producing coronavirus-related material generously as there seems to be plenty of demand for it.
Amid the pandemic, media houses are also innovating in their outreach to the readers. The Times of India, in its 21 March edition, has published a front-page message that says ‘Covid-19 has shown us that fake news is a real issue’.
The message reads, “It seems that fake news on social media is spreading faster than the virus itself…So in these uncertain times, might we ask you to wait…Wait until the truth in print makes its way to your doorstep. Print is proof.”
On 20 March, leading Hindi daily Dainik Jagran published a front-page editorial that said (as translated), “Your newspaper is as safe as your bread”. The article told the readers that the publication was deploying all the recommended safe hygiene practices from publishing to bringing the paper to the readers’ doorstep.
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