Working in the Time of Epidemic and State of Emergency

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Good reporters are always needed. However, they are especially needed in the state of emergency because they are like a double-sided filter, “cleansing” the official and popular information and finding balance.

Accurate and clearly-narrated info is a precious thing in the state of emergency.

Since there are confusing restrictions related to the media activities in Armenia (attributing only the official sources, a ban on spreading panic, huge fines, etc.,) it is time to think of the ways to be important but, at the same time, free.

Simply speaking, it’s time not to be a tool in the hands of the government, not to ՚”latch on” to the authorities and to admit that the essential things should be separated from petty interests and political games.

Now when all the news is only about Coronavirus or is related to the infection, one way or another, several problems arise.

Let’s put aside maintaining the social distance, the complications of distant work and the hygiene requirements and look at professional issues.

The primary issue is finding an expert.

Even if you are a wonderful reporter, you cannot do anything without information sources and experts.

And now it turns out that it is not enough to find a good expert – you should also refer to the opinion of people that are able to “keep distance” from their preferences and sympathies. Or at least, avoid openly talking about them.

A reporter’s credibility is about the credibility of the expert. You shouldn’t give the floor to people that are not really independent. For example, if they present the opinion of higher instances without agreeing with that opinion. Or if they are “firmly biased” persons, and have always been like that.

Astrologers, healers and people using the infection as a “political umbrella” are not a good choice. Or, rather, that choice would be quite useless.

If you find a good expert, another question arises – do you understand what he says? If you don’t understand the scientific terms, the complicated and confusing language, the audience will not understand them as well.

In this specific situation, journalists should not be scared of looking incompetent and should not hesitate to demand clarifications – in a “human language” and without vague phrasings.

It is worth asking the same question a few times, so that the expert’s words are clear even for average readers.

We should use data, we should check them but it should not be limited to that

Of course, data verification is necessary at all times. However, now we are in a more fascinating phase since any verification is subject to reviewing (the number of patients, the pandemic dissemination map and the possible dangers may change every second.)

The Armenian government reports data once a day. Also, there are maps – the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins University, etc. New platforms and databases appear constantly, and we should check them out.

We can find reliable data in professional magazines, medical universities, and research centers.

However, we need to remember that the data on pandemic cannot be quite reliable, especially in the initial stage of the infection spread, because the symptoms, the radius of the outbreak, the economic, psychological and other factors will constantly change and complemented.

Thus, the data are not sufficient.

The statistics depends on the health system of specific countries and the structure of the society. And the data in any country may be manipulative or not comprehensive.

Of course, the data also depend on the trust in the government and the citizens’ expectations that are not always inviolable and justified.

Apparently, there is high level of trust in government bodies in Armenia

The main risk is about redundant emotions and “black-and-white attitude”

It wouldn’t hurt to be vigilant before reporting scandalous figures or opinions. You shouldn’t take redundant and ineffective risks by loading the newsfeed of your media entity with shocking or manipulative info in the state of emergency.

For example, a story on positive-tested celebrities (info about contracting the virus from a president or his wife, or disseminating conspiracy theories) does not add anything to the audience’s expectations – it just adds “decibels” to the information fuss.

Informing is the mission of the media. However, reporting information is always connected with making a choice. We have to make a choice because we cannot write about everything.

As for Coronavirus, we should take into account that this is a long process, and, apart from information updates, we will need also human stories.

It’s a good time to present useful information in the required series or formats (transportation, vulnerable groups, children, new tools, etc.)

Since panic-provoking episodes will be of no help, it is worth remembering that joyful, happy, extremely positive stories are also no good.

For example, there is no need to present doctors as heroes because they are in a hard situation – tired and even exhausted.

The same could be said about the measures taken by the government – only encouraging or only alarming measures will not contribute to overcoming the pandemic.

After all, exaggerations, both positive and negative, prevent us from evaluating the situation.

Resist the discrimination-spreading clichés

Coronavirus has just started reaching the peak but the media actively publishes any trash that happens to be there.

For example, a man of Chinese ethnicity was attacked in London by a group of people who said they didn’t want “his coronavirus” in their city

Hate stories and speeches are especially widespread in the Russian media (the Americans have created the virus and disseminated it around the world; only foreigners can contract the virus but nor Russians, etc.)

The Wall Street Journal published a column, presenting China as “the real sick man of Asia” and reporting about the sharp fall in Chinese economic growth rates. The story was criticized and deemed extremely racist. China ordered the reporters from The Wall Street Journal to leave the country.

To avoid racist comments, it is always worth taking the context of words, photos and video pieces into consideration.

Try not to get physically or mentally exhausted

As we understand, the state of emergency and distant working will last for a quite long time. Of course, it’s a big stress.

A reporter is a specialist of big responsibility (at least, he should be like that.) A reporter always looks for topics and perspectives, subconsciously being in a constant “live-air” mode. Today his live connection is online.

Now, when the borders of leisure time, work, entertainment and self-discovery have become vague (they are mainly in one place and happen at the same time,) we need to find a work rhythm that will also allow to forget about journalism.

Enormous time pressures are no good for producing quality stories.

Even if the newsfeed plan and editors-in-chief urge you to write as quickly and impressively as possible, you can try to say No.

Journalists cannot have the luxury to have inner anxiety. There can be an anxious story but a journalist cannot be anxious.

In this case, there is a bigger risk of making a mistake, being in a rush, harming, losing seriousness and covering the ineffective work with sensations.

People want information provided by an even-tempered person, and not a reporter that writes, films and edits in a last ditch effort.

At the same time, a journalist working at the interface of isolation and going public keeps asking questions not only to others but also to himself.

Maybe this is one of those unique situations when you should be more careful about the questions posed to yourself. Who needs what I do?

Perhaps, we will not manage to answer this question, or will use general words to answer. The current situation is a challenging test for the feeling of relevance that could be formerly ignored.

                                                                                                                                         Nune Hakhverdyan



The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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