Credit: © 2019 European Union. Photographer: Peter Biro.

The journalism industry has changed drastically throughout the pandemic, notably making remote working and on-the-ground reporting difficult.

Humanitarian journalism, a beat that focuses on stories around humanitarian crises, aid policies, NGOs and the work of the United Nations, has been particularly hard hit.

Not only was it hindered by travel restrictions and safety measures designed to stop the spread of the virus, but this type of reporting is also expensive to produce and hard to finance through advertising and subscriptions.

On top of that, the news agenda has been so driven by the health and socio-economic impact of the pandemic that humanitarian stories have fallen through the cracks.

Difficulties with on-the-ground reporting

To get around travel bans, international newsrooms have increasingly worked with local reporters. This allowed media organisations to gain direct access to communities hit by different crises and keep the stories coming.

Josephine Schmidt, the executive editor at The New Humanitarian, said that using local journalists nurtures much more inclusive reporting in terms of diversity of voices.

One of the examples is the award-winning 'doctor's diary' piece, where a Yemeni doctor documented his time working during the pandemic in a conflict-ridden country.

On the flip side, the crackdown on press freedoms over pandemic coverage has also put many local journalists at risks.

From China jailing a number of journalists over their reporting of coronavirus in Wuhan, to Venezuelan journalist Darvinson Rojas who was detained for 12 days for his reporting on the pandemic, attempts to intimidate the media were on the rise.

Where journalists were able to report from the ground, Schmidt continued, it was still hard to build trust and have a true conversation with a source while maintaining social distancing or wearing a face covering.

Constant negativity

As a humanitarian crisis itself, the pandemic broadens the scope for humanitarian reporting. But it has also meant that other areas such as conflict, famine and natural disasters have made fewer headlines. When they did, however, there was usually a coronavirus angle, according to Martin Scott, a senior lecturer in Media and International Development at the University of East Anglia.

It was also harder for journalists to compete for readers' attention with other stories as the audiences were already overwhelmed with negative news about the virus.

Another challenge was to sustain public interest in long-running crises that are not always punctuated by spectacular events, according to Rachel Harvey, operations coordinator at a disaster relief organisation Shelter Box, and a former BBC correspondent.

"Journalists tend to measure crises in terms of how many people have died but that is a crude measure of impact," she says.

"A big flood may not kill many people, but it might wipe out crops, livestock, and houses and that can have a devastating impact on affected communities. We need to find ways to ensure that long-running crises or those that don't necessarily result in mass casualties are still reported and not forgotten."

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