FELIPE F. SALVOSA II
Theoretical and Critical Essays
RESEARCH AND SCHOLARSHIP DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The Antoninus Journal
(Vol. 6, 2020)
Amid the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is certain: the gradual transition to digital platforms has advanced tremendously, with cross-cutting effects in almost all aspects of daily life. The digital world, where there are few or even no face-to-face interactions, has become a reality. Many academics, writers and commentators now speak of this as a “new normal” (See Kluge, 2020; Lacina, 2020), as the world struggles to contain the virus, develop a vaccine, and find a cure. Even if the lockdowns are eventually lifted, the world has changed.
In journalism, the implications are becoming very clear. While there is a resurgence in news consumption, the already dying print media are being choked to death. People have increasingly turned to social media platforms for news and information even before the pandemic. Government content is threatening to crowd out the news media. Worse, government restrictions during the lockdown have limited the practice journalism. Finally, this new normal will have a profound impact on journalism education.
In the US, viewership of the three network evening newscasts, which had dropped because of 24-hour cable news programming and the shift to the internet and social media, is up 42 percent. The increase in younger viewership, ages 25 to 54, is higher at 67 percent (Jones, 2020a). In the Philippines, three news programs (TV Patrol, News Patrol, and 24 Oras) were in the top five when the quarantine was announced by President Rodrigo Duterte in March (ABS-CBN, 2020). For now, it might be a temporary bounce. But this is an opportunity to cultivate among viewers a habit of tuning in to the news every day, by providing reliable and compelling journalism.
Like the rest of the economy, however, the pandemic has taken its toll on the newspaper business. The high cost of publishing, which has long been a pressure on the economic viability of print media, becomes untenable when newsstands are shut down. In the Philippines, at least three newspapers (Malaya, Manila Standard Today, and Abante) have suspended their print editions, joining dozens, if not hundreds of others across the globe. The Murdoch family’s News Corp. alone has suspended publication of 60 newspapers (Smyth, 2020). This phenomenon is accompanied by job losses. Only the bigger publications are so far able to withstand this existential threat.
News organizations fortunately have taken full advantage of social media for content distribution. But so have government and government officials. The objective is of course to try to bypass the judicious filtering and fact-checking of the news media. Its already a tall order for the news to compete with social media and streaming services like Netflix (Koeze and Popper, 2020). Now they have to contend with politicians’ virtual press conferences that are packaged like news broadcasts—examples are Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and Mayor Isko Moreno of Manila. US President Donald Trump is holding White House news briefings on the same timeslot as 6 p.m. television newscasts, to try to bolster his political standing (Jones, 2020b). Not to be outdone, the Duterte government has a full lineup of Covid-19 programming, from morning to midnight. In contrast, news and entertainment programming in private media has been reduced (GMA Network, 2020).
Covid-19 quarantine protocols and precautions have sidelined journalists. In the Philippines, CNN Philippines and radio station DZMM were forced to shut down temporarily for disinfection because of exposure to infected persons (CNN Philippines Staff, 2020a; CNN Philippines Staff, 2020a). Three anchors belonging to the top TV networks, ABS-CBN and GMA, have been asked not to report for work because they are senior citizens, a demographic considered among the most vulnerable to the disease.
Restrictions on journalism, specifically the movements of journalists, have raised alarm among journalism practitioners and academics (Joint Statement, 2020). The government task force that is leading the Philippines’ Covid-19
response has limited to only half the number of journalists allowed to go outside their homes and do fieldwork. Press briefings are conducted virtually, and in many instances, questions are pre-screened. The time for follow-up questions is limited. In Malacañang, reporters are banned from the briefing room altogether (Cabico & Mendez, 2020). These restrictions have serious implications on the ability of news organizations to do quality journalism.
Journalists must collectively push back on unnecessary restrictions to preclude the possibility that some of these might become permanent post-lockdown. Beyond the lockdown, news organizations must continue to assert their roles as public sources of verified and contextualized information, as sense-makers and as watchdogs. This is by doing good journalism that sets them apart from state-sanctioned content or even propaganda and debunking wrong information and dis-information. Lockdown or no lockdown, journalists cannot abdicate on these functions to anyone, not even to the government.
Given these new realities, the transition to digital platforms will have to accelerate. While not all news organizations have the same resources as the New York Times, Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and other giants, their aggressive push for digital subscribers points to a way forward for the industry (Benton, 2020). News organizations will have to meet readers where they are—quarantined perhaps and holed up in their homes, more predisposed to using their computers and mobile phones to get information, entertainment and news.
The same is true for journalism education. Education may be recession-proof, but is it pandemic-proof? Dans (2020) argues that “blended learning” or the combination of face-to-face and online teaching-learning activities will become the benchmark of pedagogy and will no longer be just an option. Journalism educators will have to focus on acquiring digital skills to be able to train aspiring reporters in doing more and effective online research, producing more video and audio content, publishing content to digital platforms, and conducting remote news coverage and interviewing.
“When this is over” became the go-to phrase of the lockdown, followed by an expression of desire to do something
that was always done before people were forced to stay indoors. There is a possibility that some activities taken for granted prior to the lockdown will be difficult or no longer possible. It will be challenging and will take a lot of getting used to, but whether in journalism, communication, education or other fields, people will have to find virtual ways to be together.
ABS-CBN Corp. (2020, March 13). National TV Ratings (March 11-12, 2020). ABS-CBN.com. https://www.abscbn.com/newsroom/tv-ratings/2020/3/13/national-tv-ratings-march-11-12-2020?lang=en
Benton, J. (2020, February 10.) The Wall Street Journal joins The New York Times in the 2 million digital subscriber club. Nieman Lab. https://www.niemanlab.org/2020/02/the-wall-street-journal-joins-the-new-york-times-in-the-2million-digital-subscriber-club/
Cabico, G. K. & Mendez, C. (2020, March 27). Media no longer allowed inside Palace’s briefing room during Luzon-wide lockdown. Philstar.com. https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/03/27/2003783/media-no-longer-allowedinside-palaces-briefing-room-during-luzon-wide-lockdown
CNN Philippines Staff. (2020a, March 18). CNN Philippines temporarily goes off air as building undergoes disinfection. CNN Philippines. https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/3/18/CNN-Philippines-Worldwide-Corporate-Centercoronavirus-COVID-19-case.html?fbclid=IwAR0tIcK02947gR2OeWbg2KkRkTnPCSuld1NsvABfSOYkCRspl_YhB69GJc
CNN Philippines Staff. (2020b, April 2). DZMM temporarily halts operations as personnel go on quarantine. CNN
Dans. E. (2020, April 13). The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Unleashed A Revolution In Education: From Now On, Blended Learning Will Be The Benchmark. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/enriquedans/2020/04/13/the-coronaviruspandemic-has-unleashed-a-revolution-in-education-from-now-on-blended-learning-will-be-thebenchmark/#6c04a547536f
GMA Network Inc. (2020, March 15). GMA is temporarily suspending the production of some TV programs amid COVID19 crisis. GMA Network (website). https://www.gmanetwork.com/international/newsandevents/1120/gma-istemporarily-suspending-the-production-of-some-tv-programs-amid-covid-19-crisis/story
Joint Statement. (2020, March 20). PCOO Accreditation: Unnecessary, Unreasonable, Unconstitutional. Rising Sun Blog. https://risingsun.dannyarao.com/2020/03/20/joint-statement-pcoo-accreditation-unnecessary-unreasonableunconstitutional/
Jones, T. (2020a, April 16). America is watching the evening news again. TV news numbers are up. Way up. The Poynter Institute (website). https://www.poynter.org/newsletters/2020/america-is-watching-the-evening-news-again-tvnews-numbers-are-up-way-up/
Jones, T. (2020a, April 16). President Trump seems to have a reason to hold coronavirus press conferences around 6 p.m. Eastern. So what is it? The Poynter Institute (website). https://www.poynter.org/newsletters/2020/president-trumpseems-to-have-a-reason-to-hold-coronavirus-press-conferences-around-6-p-m-eastern-so-what-is-it/
Koeze, E. & Popper, N. (2020, April 7). The Virus Changed the Way We Internet. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/07/technology/coronavirus-internet-use.html
Kluge, H.H.P. (2020, April 16). Statement – Transition to a ‘new normal’ during the COVID-19 pandemic must be guided by public health principles. World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe (website). http://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/sections/statements/2020/statement-transition-to-a-new-normal-duringthe-covid-19-pandemic-must-be-guided-by-public-health-principles
Lacina, L. (2020, April 14). Prepare for a ‘new normal’ as lockdown restrictions ease: Monday’s COVID-19 WHO briefing. World Economic Forum (website). https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/13-april-who-briefing-coronaviruscovid19-lockdown-restrictions-guidance/
Photo is from PIXABAY
Felipe F. Salvosa II.
Theoretical and Critical Essays RESEARCH AND SCHOLARSHIP DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The digital new normal: Implications on journalism and journalism practice
Department of Communication and Media Studies, Faculty of Arts and Letters, and Research Center for Culture, Arts and the Humanities, University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines 1015