Journalism in Times of Coronavirus
The coronavirus crisis has pushed staff at Arab newspapers and magazines to work from home, in an experience journalists have called “rich and unique, showcasing the capabilities of journalists”, asserting that “there are no downsides to working remotely, and it is a strong test of the readiness of the journalist to work digitally”.
With some newspapers deciding to work remotely, other newspapers have thought of directing their efforts on their electronic websites.
Working remotely was a distinguished experience for Asharq Al-Awsat, which is preparing its material and pages and feeding its digital platforms through tireless teams working around the clock from home. Since the start of the spread of the coronavirus in the world last month, Asharq Al-Awsat has put an emergency plan in place to secure the safety of its workers around the world to ensure continuous smooth publishing. This plan included several large changes to work cycles while constantly monitoring the spread of the virus to evaluate the circumstances of its teams in more than one country.
Asharq Al-Awsat encouraged its workers who fall under the “high-risk” category to work from home to ensure their safety. It also pushed its team members returning from countries that had substantial infections to quarantine at home. In parallel, it held training sessions on working remotely, more than a week before countries announced total lockdowns in London, Riyadh, Cairo and Beirut. Despite the challenges in such situations, the changes that the crisis has imposed highlighted the “digital transformation” that Asharq Al-Awsat made its headline in 2020.
International experiences and advice for journalists
In the past, working from home was a privilege for some jobs such as telecom services. In the coronavirus era, however, it has become a reality for companies around the world to stop the rapid spread of the virus while maintaining productivity. International companies are dealing with this reality as a fact that will last for a while, ever since the WHO announced that the virus has reached the pandemic stage.
There are some rules for working from home which need effort given the lack of monitoring. The worker needs to assign a specific workplace at home and to separate it from sources of distraction such as children and pets. Perhaps the most important rule is opening channels of communication with employers and teams and to understand the expectations of working from home.
Despite the fact that the United Kingdom did not ban office work until last week, there are some media outlets that preceded the events and told employees to work from home to avoid the spread of the virus. One of the most important of these was the Financial Times and other newspapers. Financial Times offices in London are empty until further notice. This decision came after one of its journalists showed symptoms of the coronavirus, which forced the entire floor to be evacuated and cleaned. In a letter to employees, the Financial Times administration said that it wanted to reduce the number of people working in the building for several weeks in order to reduce the need to shut down the offices or expose those who have to be in the building to the virus.
With working from home, the ease by which one could communicate with and consult the manager is over. The manager may not even be used to managing people remotely. In addition, companies may not be equipped with modern means of communication that include video conferences such as Zoom.
However, even with these means of communication one of the challenges of working from home is feeling lonely. An American study of 2,500 people who work from home showed that the largest challenge for the Buffer Company was that 19% of its workers felt lonely and isolated. Barbara Larsen describes the effect loneliness had, making the employee less motivated to work and less productive. Larsen prefers that communications with the manager be effective and face to face through applications such as Skype and Zoom.