Credit: Andrew Garthwaite

John Crowley writes on tech, business, newsroom management, burnout and disinformation. He is a trustee of the Journalists’ Charity.

Newsrooms are an essential but romanticised part of our industry fabric. They are quieter than in the days of clattering typewriters, hot metal and so-called ‘copy boys’. But journalists still thrive on physical interaction and robust discussion on which story, headline or picture to use.

Covid-19 has halted, for now, how every news organisation around the world would normally function.

If you are a young journalist, you may feel bewildered about how your world of work has been transformed. If you are a newsroom leader you may already have put staff on furlough after initially directing them to work from home. Some of these journalists will have come to you with mental health problems or financial concerns.

I am issuing an appeal to journalists of all creeds, backgrounds, geographies and experience levels – working in newsrooms large or small – to complete a quick, anonymous survey around stress and what news organisations will look like post-covid-19.

Two years ago I ran a survey to investigate how journalists were wilting under the weight of the emails, alerts, and notifications they were receiving. As part of the European Journalism Centre's News Impact Network, I published a piece of research on the findings to illustrate how they were being overwhelmed by the information they process in their working day.

Journalists were already struggling then. The financial cost that covid-19 will wreak on news organisations has been laid bare by a piece of research by Enders Analysis which predicted that up to a third of frontline journalism jobs could be lost in the forthcoming recession.

Advertising revenue is in freefall. But whether you are an editor-in-chief or a junior reporter, distributed newsrooms are still expected to get a news product out, one that at the moment carries relentlessly depressing news. For now, reporters are having to adjust to a ‘new abnormal’.

Evidence from speaking to colleagues suggest many are working long hours and vicariously dealing with traumatic stories.

One news editor at a UK national newspaper said: "On the days that I am working I will put in close to 12 hours and, because of the lockdown, do not take much of a break.

"More than the hours, it is being in the pandemic bubble that bothers me. I feel like I don’t have a clear perspective on what is going on and feel the need to ask non-journalists about their view of the situation to help me find a balance."

Asked how the transfer from the office to working from home has gone, the journalist responded: "I work from the kitchen table which is comforting in that it’s a nice place to be but I don’t have an office chair so my back is hurting.

"My family and I have worked hard to be understanding of each other under difficult circumstances. We take the positives of being together more as the biggest part of the move."

Journalists are clearly suffering huge amounts of pressure. I want to find out what those trigger points are – but also explore how covid-19 will usher in permanent, structural changes as lockdowns in some countries are lifted.

Many are saying the pandemic will usher in a once-in-a-generation transformation. 

Whether that will actually come to pass is up for debate, but opportunities do abound in moments of crisis. Trends already in play will be sped up. Physical national newspaper sales are down by a fifth during the lockdown in Britain but has registered 200,000 new customers since the coronavirus outbreak.

Like many other creative industries, we can also learn that every minute of our working day does not need to be optimised; we can afford colleagues the room to be creative rather than monitored obsessively; and that newsroom leaders can effectively lead in a distributed setting.

The work of journalists still remains incredibly important and very much in demand. A survey of six countries by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on navigating the ‘infodemic’ found that a large majority of respondents felt the news media has "helped them to understand the crisis" and "explained how they can respond to it".

When the lockdown ends in your country, will journalists go back to working the way they did before? If it is proven that news organisations can work in a distributed fashion, will this usher in more flexi-hours? Will newsrooms as we know them become something of the past?

It is these questions and more that I hope to get people thinking about. You can have an influence on how the industry answers them. Please help me by completing this five-minute survey.

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