Conference Report – Journalism in the Times of Coronavirus

Conference Report – Journalism in the Times of Coronavirus
Prepared by Shreya Mishra and Saumya Vasdev

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. The role of a journalist and media as an organization is inevitable in the time of crisis. Journalist plays a vital role in spearing awareness and controlling the panic.

The New Media Editors Guild of India in association with In-Depth Communication organized an International Online Conference on Journalism in the Times of Coronavirus on 12 April 2020.

The conference brought together industry leaders and academic experts to discuss and share their insights on the role of media and journalists during the pandemic.

The focus was on social media, the deep penetration of the internet and user-generated content overflow often hindering the workflow of a journalist in the time of any crisis. Apart from reporting the news, there are wider possibilities and opportunities as well as a threat to information flow.

The conference was divided into two sessions: the first session focused on the mass media, while the second session focused on allied aspects, including technology, education, and culture.

Session-I was chaired by Dr Rahul Dass who welcomed the panelists from media and academics to share their knowledge on News and Information in the times of Coronavirus. He spoke about the extraordinary situation the current coronavirus pandemic has put everyone in. The media is facing a challenge to keep the show running despite the hurdles it is facing. Dr. Dass mentioned three key elements that have are of focus during the pandemic: Television ratings have shot up, digital media is playing an important role in delivering day to day news and finally, how the reporters on the field are getting news for the population.

Mr. PM Narayanan, who is Chief Producer at German Television, spoke on TV reporting at the time of Coronavirus. He said that in this pandemic it is a very stressful time for our news journalist to go out in the field and report the situation as they are facing challenges like social distancing. They are also facing issues with transport. Talking about the production team, one must keep sanitizing their equipment, say the camera covers microphones etc. The postproduction team has to take the help of technology. He spoke about how technology has helped the media in distributing reports online, through Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. He stressed that mobile phones were proving to be quite handy. The situation is stressful for all TV journalists as they are front line warriors and have to go for reporting in the field. Journalists have to be in close proximity to get the story which is against the rules of social distancing. Block out of transportation has also proven to be a major challenge. In these times, technology is playing an important role and helping during the production and postproduction of the news.

Mr. Vinoy Mathew, the Chief Correspondent at Mathrubhumi, shared his experience on Coronavirus reporting. Being in the state of Kerala, which has implemented triple lockdown, he said it is difficult for news reporters to collect facts and figures, as they are not allowed to ride on two-wheeler. They were also facing challenges of social distancing due to transport lockdown. He said that the distribution of newspapers has gone down as the citizens are now relying on social media for news and updates on COVID-19.

Mr. Sunil Prabhakar, Consultant, Online Education at  Mathrubhumi, spoke on Fake News and Coronavirus. He referred to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanon’s statement: “We are not just fighting the epidemic, we are fighting pandemic”. He added that ​it is now a challenge for fact-checking and blocking myth and misinformation which are being spread over the Internet. There are several measures taken for the same at government and state levels.  WHO, BBC, AFT, IFCF, INDIAN PRESS INFO BUREAU has published myth buster and mis-info fact check on Coronavirus which will help journalists and people to fact check and verify the story\facts\info. Also, we being part of the society we can check facts and figures and report if there is disinformation for the same.

Dr. Tilak Jha spoke on Coronavirus: State media’s role in China’s health diplomacy. Talking about Chinese media, they are classified in three broad categories:  1. Traditional Media 2. Social Media 3. Artificial Intelligence Talking about AI which has the minimum interaction required and is most suitable during the pandemic in China. On the other hand, if we compare different Chinese newspapers of the same date, we will see the same caption, the same story and the same picture which brings us to Chinese media mass diplomacy which works together focusing on Political Party and Global Agendas.

Prof. Vidya Deshpande spoke about Solutions Journalism in the time of Coronavirus. Talking about Indian journalist and reports does not have the luxury and facilities. Solution journalism offers insight of the problem along with why and how. It also provides limitations and evidence of impact. Well done stories can enlarge people and can lead to meaningful change. Adding to that it focuses in depth on response to problems which later result in inspiration and insight.

Prof. Malvika Sagar spoke on sports media and Coronavirus. Talking about hold on sports industry which has postponed events like Olympics, Football and IPL to next year has affected Sponsors and stakeholders leading to a $6 billion economic challenge. Sports channels are telecasting iconic sports events which are hitting sixes in TRP rating. Beside nostalgic moments interviews, experiences and updates on sportspersons are keeping fans and sports lovers glued to TV sets. Coronavirus is the first pandemic that has affected sport at this level. Even after resuming back to normalcy, sports won’t be the same as before.

Prof. Vidya Deshpande welcomed panelists of Session II to distill their knowledge on Coronavirus and Daily Life: Beyond News and Information. She opened with how life has changed for most of us and how this can soon be the new normal: work from home can be the norm for many companies, changes in the education system such as schools and colleges going online may become prevalent. The organization and viewing of big sporting events may change.

Prof. Joseph John Nalloor from Murdoch University, Dubai campus, spoke on role of technology during the Coronavirus crisis. He said that the digital technology reaches even faster than a virus. We are using social media and utilizing the best out of it through various apps. Talking about Dubai where the government has reached its audience through simple SMS letting them know about curfew timing and lockdown updates to people who are not on social platforms. Other countries including India have used technology to even track Covid19. Video conferencing has introduced work/education from home. The use of drones in covering streets and getting pictures for journalists are helping the media. Drones are also being utilized as being an eye for police and sanitizing streets. As technology is being used to its fullest there are chances of internet coming under strain. In order to save it, the government has set limitations for the same.

Prof. Shajan C Kumar spoke about data storytelling in times of Coronavirus. He said that from social media to televisions and even print media, there are stories that carry data like graphics, charts and animations. These data stories tell us about the exact number of cases and areas affected by the pandemic through charts and maps respectively. WHO is doing a wonderful job of collecting Coronavirus spread data and analyzing it properly for use of world media. ‘Flourish’ is a website where one can create data visualization and upload it for digital media use.

Prof. Malavika Vettath, who is a senior journalist and visiting faculty at Curtin University, Dubai acknowledged the Impact on culture during the pandemic. She said that in order to interact with their audiences, artists are going live on social media platforms and are performing even after staying at home. Celebrities are making short films; gym trainers are assisting people from home via video calls and through live sessions which are keeping us connected to each other. Government decision of re-broadcasting epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata are focusing on entertainment and culture even in this lockdown.

Ms. Asha Khosa, a senior journalist who is a specialist in Jammu & Kashmir, spoke about Coronavirus and how health became a casualty of protracted conflict in Kashmir. She said that taking Kashmir’s picture in consideration, there have been some concerns over the reportage. Although journalists are covering incidents and spreading articles over WhatsApp, it is not referred to as journalism and if we see there is 2G facility available which is somehow interrupting the coverage. Healthcare and developmental issues should be more focused on, rather than covering political issues.

Participants were active in asking questions and discussion

Dr. Rahul Dass spoke on Impact of Coronavirus on Education. He said that considering an education in times of coronavirus has given us opportunity to interact and learn online with help of technology. He added that shifting to a new education eco-system through online education is a new experience. Reaching areas like villages where the technology approach is limited will create issues in upcoming times. End term and competitive examination will be facing phased challenges.

Dr. Nithin Kalorth spoke on Documenting Coronavirus in Daily Life and Reality. He said that there are many aspects which have affected each and everyone, including some in business, transport system or investments in upcoming wedding functions. A few years from now, our documentation will be becoming history as a study in textbooks or be referred for somethings else which we are not yet aware now. Our everyday challenges are recorded, even our movements, as documents. On the Individual part, social media is becoming a newsroom which is giving inputs to journalists through their posts, live sessions, and vlogs. Other than these aspects, our manufacturing content will fall.

Prof. Aswanth G Krishnan spoke on Storytelling in Pandemic days: Redefining digital spaces. He said that due to this global pandemic story, general news browsing has drastically increased by the people. In order to engage the audience, measures are taken as to re-broadcast classic shows or collaborating artists through social media which is giving a message of togetherness and bringing us closer to one another. Police and government helping us in their way to decreasing fake news and the spread of covid19 respectively.

There were 150 participants who were connected live on Zoom. It was also available on YouTube Live. The conference was organized by New Media Editors Guild Of India and In-Depth Communication co-hosted the event.