How COVID-19 Is Reconstructing Journalism

6 min readJan 5, 2021

Remote working. Online interviews. Heightened mental trauma.

Deliris’ image from Shutterstock

As the United Kingdom and Scotland enter lockdown number three, it comes as no shock that the COVID-19 pandemic will be the largest news story to ever be covered by journalists. This pandemic has already had a tremendous impact on journalism as a whole, from changing the technology used to the mental trauma that journalists face simultaneously. The editor and consultant John Crowley states that journalism is shedding a lot of old skin, undertaking a revised format in the foreseeable future. “Adapt or die” Crowley asserted, stating how change is critical for the evolvement and preservation of the future of journalism.

Here are some ways that COVID-19 has changed journalism. For better or for worse, you tell me?

Never-ending news cycle

The news cycle that once featured more of a diversification in its news stories, is now burdened with the relentless topic of COVID-19. From ‘Can we really jab our way out of lockdown?’ to ‘How many coronavirus cases are there in your area?’, the concern is omnipresent. It even has it’s own genre heading on the BBC News website, placed between ‘Brexit’ and ‘UK’.

This is due to the news serving its purpose to the viewers, as the scale and intensity of the situation has created a drastic sense of unease amongst the population. It is a virus that we have not seen before, creating a heightened sense of ambiguity and restlessness. Therefore, journalisms prime purpose is to inform the public about the current affairs that are happening, in order to gain more awareness about the complex circumstance. This is identified by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, the authors of The Elements of Journalism, who state that “the principles and purpose of journalism are defined by the function that news plays in the lives of people.” This demonstrates how journalism is tailored to suit the needs of the public, the continuous topic of COVID-19 so that the public are able to gain a wider sense of understanding about the virus.

Journalists working remotely

Due to one of the most important measures to combat COVID-19 being social distancing, journalists have had to swap their busy offices to the comfy realm of their homes. From working in their bedrooms to their dining room tables, they have had to get used to their new surroundings in order to carry on with their duties.

The main consequence of working at home was that the admission to studios and essential equipment was minimised, making it harder to gather resources effectively when producing news stories.

Utilising different types of technology

The saving grace of the lack of resources was technology, the BBC news journalist Joe Whitwell declared. This enabled newsrooms to construct a new system of order, using video appliances and messaging applications to maintain communication between different platforms, such as Zoom. (I’m sure you’ve heard about this platform!). These video platforms were crucial in allowing journalists to interview contributors, such as victims of COVID-19 that were able to tell their story and advise the public.

The advanced technology has enabled journalists to continue with their work, providing a fundamental purpose in notifying the population. Without this technology, it would have been extremely challenging.

Adjustment to interview approaches

Whereas journalists would typically travel to the destination for an interview and ask their interviewee a substantial amount of questions, it is now too impractical and time-consuming. Due to every COVID-19 lockdown limiting the nature of travel, journalists have had to turn to online interviews.

Sally Adams, the author of Interviewing for Journalists, expressed how journalists must ask more direct questions during online interviews. This is due to being able to access the internet in as quick as a flash, meaning a viewer can get easily bored within seconds. The longer the interview is, the less interest it will receive from it’s viewers. Therefore, journalists have had to change their technique to a more direct, hands on approach that will gain the desired information as quickly as possible.

Additional reliance on contributors

Journalists usually rely on themselves a lot, until COVID-19 meant that the contributors have had to have more of an input. The Guardian’s head of video, Charlie Phillips, expressed that the reliance on contributors to film their own lives actually worked really well and increase the sense of authenticity altogether. This increased the sense of honesty and reality on screen, without the staged settings and questions that sometimes came as a result of a conventional interview, pre-covid.

Distressing aftermath

A journalists duty is hindered by the distressing aftermath that many have faced, as a result of constantly covering COVID-19 news stories. Writing, interviewing and listening to the stories entailing the dreaded virus have put thousands of journalists at high risks of poor mental welfare.

This is due to journalists experiencing trauma from taking on three separate roles. These are:

  1. The role of the witness
  2. The role of the empathetic listener
  3. The role of the communicator, informing the rest of the public about the gained knowledge.

The role of a journalist has even been compared to the role of a psychotherapist, as the ‘journalist and trauma’ author Dr McMahon articulates that the journalist takes on a similar role to the victim. They may encounter the same fragility of emotions, such as anger, horror or even despair.

An example of COVID-19 taking it’s toll on a journalist is the Today Show host Hoda Kotb bursting into tears on live television. Kotb was interviewing the New Orleans Saints quarterback (American Football) Drew Brees, regarding the impact of COVID-19 on Louisiana. Brees had kindly donated $5 million to help coronavirus victims, and Kotb broke down into tears at his immense generosity.

Not to mention the SNBC news anchor Rachel Maddow, who cried towards the end of her show as she thought of a past colleague, who unfortunately died as a result of COVID-19.

Or the CNN host Erin Burnett who became extremely upset amidst an interview with a widow of previous victim of COVID-19.

Is it fair that journalists are putting their sanity on the line, every day, in order to fulfil their duty? We do not know the detrimental long-term effects that this could have on the journalists themselves.

Lastly, I conducted a poll to see if my voters thought that COVID-19 has changed journalism for the better. See below.

My own poll conducted on Twitter

The feedback was extremely strong, with 100% of voters choosing no. It is particularly thought-provoking, as I questioned whether this is because the negative connotations that are associated with the virus have been attached to journalism? Or is it because not only has physical deterioration been recorded, severe mental deterioration has been too, as I discussed within journalism and trauma above. This mental decline could outweigh the positives of this transformation within journalism, meaning that journalism could be worsening. But as COVID-19 has proven to us, situations can change ever so quickly and we do not know what journalism has in store for us.

Time will tell.

“Journalists are vicarious first responders” Rachel A. Clay.

If you are interested in journalism and trauma within this pandemic, read the Poynter article ‘Journalists know trauma, but COVID-19 might expose them to something new: anticipatory trauma’.

Do you think that journalists will suffer with severe mental health problems, as a result of this COVID-19 pandemic? I want to hear your views, so reply to this on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.




Bournemouth Blogger | Social Media Addict | Sunset Chaser. Devoted to exploring journalism and the media.