The lives of thousands have been lost around the world as the ripples of the Covid-19 pandemic reverberates across the globe, bringing robust economies to their knees and putting almost every sector, including the media, in distress. Now more than ever, the need for information has become pronounced, but the news media industry is also facing an existential crisis: revenues are down, budget are being slashed and staff numbers are have been cut.
However, this pandemic provides an opportunity for new and creative ways of gathering, reporting and producing the news and a chance for journalism to reinvent itself.
Working from home
This pandemic has transformed the practice of journalism. Working from home is now becoming the new normal signaling a departure from the practice of assembling in a physical newsroom always to work on stories or broadcast the news.
News anchor and editor at JoyNews Israel Laryea, has been doing this job for over 20 years. He has turned a corner in his living room into a make-shift television studio, something he never imagined would happen in his lifetime.
“In the studio you’re used to doing things in a certain way,” Israel says. “Here at home you don’t have all the equipment that you have back in the studio. I have to do a lot of the things that the sound, lighting and camera technicians would do.”
Louisa, Israel’s wife does his make-up to prepare him for the flagship JoyNews Prime program he anchors. His daughter, Samantha is in charge the prompter on the show at home.
The need to adhere to the social distancing protocols has become extremely necessary especially after it emerged that workplaces had been identified as hotspots of the disease. Acting General Manager of GHONE TV Nana Aba Anamoah said the safety of their staff was paramount from the onset.
She, and many show producers and hosts of television and radio programs have resorted to the video conferencing apps Zoom and Cisco Webex to share ideas with colleagues or interact with panelists.
“It’s a very great innovation – the Zoom, because sometimes you invite people to the studio and you want the interview to be crisp. 2 or 3 minutes maximum. Zoom allows that and the person doesn’t have to drive all the way to the studio only to speak for that short period,” Nana Aba Anamoah told Joy News’ Araba Koomson.
Benard Avle of Citi FM agrees. He is excited about the fact that the pandemic has forced media managers and journalist to explore new ways of reporting the news.
Benard said: “I can bring in four guests from all over the world via zoom. They do not need to drive and come to the studio at 9pm. COVID has helped me to get better panelists…”
Revenue losses and lay offs
With dwindling revenues, comes the inevitable but painful decision to lay off staff, and putting a freeze on hiring new people. But not all organizations are prepared to let their staff go. Some have directed employees to go on extended leaves whilst others, although relatively smaller, say laying off staff was not an option, given the prevailing circumstances. Chief Operating Officer of the Multimedia Group Ken Ansah thinks the government should step in to support the media in this difficult season.
Mr. Ansah explains: “If giving tax breaks to media houses will help, fine…if it’s a lump sum that government wants to provide for the media that will also be great or combination of these options.”
On his part, CITI FM’s Bernard Avle believes tax breaks, rather than a bailout for the media industry will be more practical in supporting such businesses.
“Because what unemployment does to the economy is worse than what not paying taxes does,” he says.
Covid-19 has introduced an interesting paradox, never in the history of humanity has the need for news and information been so important and never before has the news media faced such a crunch which painfully inhibits the performance of this fundamental necessity of journalism.
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