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Reporting on the ‘new normal’

PHOTO/ELLIE FRANCO

I am the Local Focus video reporter for the Wairarapa.

My job is to go out into the community every day and immerse myself around people, recording their stories and publishing them to weekly deadlines.

Working from home makes this really tough because I have to balance a number of distractions including: whether or not my housemates are going to give me covid, whether my headache is covid or just general paranoia, insufficient recording space, so many printer problems, and quite frankly, not-that-great coffee.

Journalists are classed as essential workers so we can get out into the community to find new stories.

But we still need to be wary of our movements and work from home as much as possible.

 

Wairarapa Times-Age (WTA) chief reporter, Tom Taylor, said the biggest challenge when working from home was a lack of motivation and colleagues to bounce ideas off in the workplace.

“If you’re seeing the same four walls all day, every day, that can get the energy down a fair bit – it gets a bit lonely,” he said.

Many of Tom’s friends have asked him if working in local journalism is like the BBC television show AfterLife starring Ricky Jervais as a widowed reporter for the local paper, chasing small-town stories met with good-old English irreverence.

“I have to say sometimes yeah, it kind of is. Except we have to take all our own photos, so we’re not talking to the guy next to us saying, take a photo.”

Roger Parker is news director at the Wairarapa Times-Age and has been a journalist for 37 years.

He’s seen huge changes in the industry.

He grew up inspired by reporters filing visual stories on the Vietnam war.

His long career has seen groundbreaking shifts from typewriters to computers and the internet.

Parker said he didn’t think there was another industry that had changed so much and so fast as the media had in the last 20 years.

“It really is extraordinary what goes on, what we’re capable of doing,” he said.

“It doesn’t change the fact that we still need to be responsible and as fair and as open as we should be.”

He said the role of a journalist is to be impartial and independent.

“In the context of what’s been going on in recent times, the role is one of information to the public and how to best present that in what has sometimes been a very scientific period – is to try and break that down, keep it simple.”

“But at the same time informative, and that people feel they know just a little bit more than before they read your article.”

While some New Zealand media have been accused of bias in their reporting of the pandemic, these regional journalists say that’s just not the case.

Acting Midweek editor, Erin Kavanagh-Hall, said reporters were being attacked for doing their jobs.

“I thought it was extremely toxic,” she said.

“I also think a lot of the public were scapegoating NZ journalists for their own frustration about covid entirely.

“As a country we’ve done pretty well compared to the rest of the world.

“We’ve had a lot more freedom in times when everybody else was locked down, but journalists will inevitably always be the ones getting beaten down for the messaging behind Government protocols.

“It’s a classic case of shooting the messenger,” Kavanagh-Hall said.

“I think you’ve got the people on the other side who have lashed out at people like Jacinda Adern and the Government.”

“You can’t really lash out at a virus, you can’t get angry at it when it’s not a tangible thing.”

“You can’t yell at a virus for destroying people’s lives, but you can get angry at people.”

“I think there was just a lot of displaced anger, and the media and politicians have unfortunately copped it.”

Parker is concerned about the length of time it took since the beginning of the pandemic to receive responses to questions WTA considered necessary to be responded to in a timely fashion.

“I’ll be interested to see in time, whether people are more inclined or happier to meet with journalists, with people with cameras or recording or taking notes,” he said.

“Or whether they prefer to keep that distance that they feel might be able to give them a little bit of a buffer between two parties”.

Former travel-writer, now WTA reporter, Sue Teodoro, had to quickly adapt to the ‘new normal’.

She said her previous role as a freelance travel writer changed dramatically because she could no longer travel, but “filing features from hotel rooms at funny hours was in fact really good training for covid, because I’m all set up”.

“I’ve got Word on my phone, all my apps are on my laptop and my smartphone so I can literally file a story from wherever I am.”

Teodoro now reports on Wairarapa case numbers and hospitalisation rates.

But while it was reporting on covid that caused work disruption initially, now it is journalists catching covid.

“I think that possibly the biggest impact is coming now, and I’ve noticed with people actually getting covid themselves,” Teodoro said.

She said some people were going “above and beyond”.

“Like some people are continuing to work from home even though they’re sick, and then the rest of us are covering for people who are sick as much as we can.”

With so many new pressures on journalists, maintaining mental health is vital, especially without newsroom banter.

Kavanagh-Hall said working from home would become more common.

“I would just say it’s really important that employers check in with people working from home as much as they can,” she said.

“If you’re struggling with something in your personal life, it is very easy to get sort of swept away by that.”

Teodoro said people were remarkably resilient.

“This would have been much more difficult to manage without the internet, so the fact that we’re online is a massive plus.

“It’s enabled us to almost seamlessly kind-of pivot from being at work in an office environment to working from somewhere else.”

So spare a thought for how the news you read, watch and listen to is actually created.

It’s more than likely it was by someone like me, sitting in a small bedroom with just a laptop and the internet to talk to.

Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco is Wairarapa’s Local Focus video journalist. She regularly covers in-depth stories on arts, culture, people, health, and the occasional pup.

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