How did COVID19 affect agricultural journalism across Europe?

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Journalism is playing an important role in the everyday life of any society, especially in situations of crisis, as we have seen over the last few months. So, it’s crucial.

Lockdown and the stability of food production as a priority resulted in a public focus on a sector that we write about and report on.

So we have asked national guilds about the challenges of agricultural journalism in these unprecedented Corona times.

Online is not a replacement

“As with everywhere around the world, the COVID-19-crisis affected agricultural journalism a lot. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, all press conferences and events were cancelled. After a phase of shock, some important players discovered the opportunity of video streams. They are now part of the ‘new reality’ in ag-journalism. However, our experience is that they can only be one part of the future of reporting as there is no real interaction between speakers and journalists. So step by step personal meetings will come back. We, the Austrian Guild of agricultural journalists and publishers, think that we will need a good mix of online meetings and face to face contacts. That´s why we are already planning some events within the guild for autumn (as far as they will be possible), as we don´t see any chance to replace private conversation and connection in order to get serious background information.”

Stefan Nimmervoll (Austria)

Higher demand for relevant information

“As Sweden chose a different path to handle the Covid-19 situation our society has been somewhat functioning even during the most intensive time. Ag journalists have, like most people, been working more remotely from their home offices. But it has been possible to make on-site farm visits all the time. Some farms have been more cautious and have asked not to have any visitors, in those cases interviews have been made over the telephone or via digital forums.

Media has been very important and the demand for relevant information has been high. A source of worry though is a slight fall in advertising, which could affect the economy of the media companies in the long run.”

Linda Grimstedt (Sweden)

A high-quality media will prevail and regain its position

“The first Covid-19 case was detected in late January. Finland took measures to limit Covid-19 spreading by declaring a state of emergency on March 16th, which limited, among other things, social activity and travel, encouraged remote work and personal measures to limit virus spreading. All meetings beyond 10 people we banned, social distancing was encouraged, all public schools transferred to distance education mode, restaurants closed in early April. Most of the detected Covid-19 cases were identified in the Helsinki region. Therefore, the greater Helsinki region, Uusimaa was isolated from the rest of the country from March 28th until April 15th. Only important work-related travel was authorized across the control zone. The state of emergency was terminated on June 16th, restaurants have reopened their doors gradually, and public meetings have been limited initially up to 500 people. Due to the crisis, thousands of people lost their job and many more got laid off for a limited time. Over a million Finns adopted remote work at their home, and still continue working from their home offices.

We, Maataloustoimittajat, had perhaps one of the easiest adaptations to given Covid-19 measures since we have become accustomed to working remotely for a long time before this crisis. Many farms were reluctant to receive media on a farm visit, which is natural. However, a good journalist did find means to create an informative and enjoyable article. Earlier scheduled conferences and media meetings were converted to online remote meetings. All ag-related print media, and as far as I can see, all media in Finland weathered the crisis well. However, social media certainly took advantage of the time period. It seems that just about every citizen became an expert on just about anything, sharing their findings and views on social media. And people read those stories.

Today, one of the important topics in the discussion is, how do you identify a trusted source of information. As a good journalist, you never trust your information from a single source, but you check the facts. Eventually, high-quality media will prevail and regain its position as a trustworthy source of information.”

Tapani Koivunen (Finland)

DFAJ: Corona cancelled our congress

“How corona affected the work of Danish Food and Agricultural Journalists? It is clear that canceling our IFAJ-congress in Denmark in June has been the hardest effect. 25 people or so have voluntarily worked to prepare the congress – some of them for years. It has been costly and a great disappointment to cancel. Mid-June we were able to meet again and had our general assembly where our members asked us to say yes to the invitation to host IFAJ 2021 – so work is continuing.

Everybody talks about web-meetings as something new. The board of DFAJ has worked with web-meetings for years since we live far apart. So that has not been unusual.

We have not been able to have meetings for the members from March to June. We had a big meeting in February and also a presentation at the general assembly.

Meanwhile, we have posted to our members about the webinars that have been available for members, for example, Jane Craigie’s webinars about corona and agriculture. We also invited members to IFAJ’s webinar week in June. We had members being part of the programme 3 out of 4 days. One day we had a person in the panel about freedom of the press, another day we invited a speaker about journalism across borders, and in addition to our presentation of the IFAJ 2021 congress we plan we invited a member from the European parliament to give input.

So there have been plenty of activities in DFAJ in spite of Corona.”

Frederik Thalbitzer (Denmark)

An overnight drop in article orders

“Freelance journalists who work for monthly or weekly magazines like me have suffered a drop in orders for articles overnight. News about the pandemic was taking up all the space. And there were enough editors inside the magazines to feed the media quickly.

It took me 15 days to understand that I had to offer the editorial staff both offbeat and forward-looking post-COVID topics. And, if possible, reports, because only freelancers and correspondents could decide on their own to travel. I didn’t want to “cover” the economic consequences of the disease. I found the media too alarmist, some analyses lacked restraint. I also felt that my relatives and neighbors wanted to read something else, something more positive, a nice story.

So I worked on a portrait of a teacher in Rochefort (west coast of France) who was preparing for post-confinement, her kindergarten class outdoors, on a communal area wedged between a factory and a railway line. It was bold and courageous of her. The children were indeed delighted to find their teacher outside the school walls. I enjoyed following them outdoor. It was joyful and the teacher is planning to continue giving outdoor classes next fall. This report published in the Journal du dimanche (and repeated on France Inter) will remain in my memories. I didn’t make much money with this article because I was so happy to get out that I was flashed twice for speeding. First!

As early as June, the orders were back to normal. I returned with pleasure to the subjects about the food sector which is my specialty.”

Marie Nicot (France)

Had to cancel planned LBPR press trip in Split region

“Despite all efforts, we had to cancel our planned LBPR press trip for our EU colleagues in a region of Split, which was due to be connected to an informal meeting of EU Agri ministers.

In a period of lockdown, most of us worked remotely, from home. As a journalist, we had special passes, but in order to behave more responsibly, we did most of our daily routines by phone and emails. After a few weeks, as a country we had very low numbers of COVID19 infected people, so we all came back to the almost normal routines.

Thus, we have organized a local press trip for a small group of agri-journalist about good practices at privately-owned forests in Croatia. That was the very first real-life DANH activity in the era of webinars and teleconferences.”

Martin Vuković (Croatia)

It will be interesting to look back on this period

“A strict Coronavirus lockdown began in Ireland on 27 March 2020, with everybody required to stay at home. Journalists were listed as an essential service, along with farming and food production, so we could continue to work and travel for work. A 2m social distancing rule was introduced.

At my workplace, the Irish Farmers Journal newspaper and website, we began working from home from the week of 16 March. At the time of writing, it is 16 July and we are still working from home. While we could continue to work, our way of working changed.

We couldn’t clear and correct news pages for the paper in person with our sub-editors, we couldn’t meet with colleagues in person for meetings or for a coffee break.

Now, we correct pages over the internet, we hold virtual meetings over Zoom or Microsoft Teams and the days of a coffee break and a chat with colleagues are gone – at least for the time being.

Remote working has taken hold. While it will suit some more than others, it busts the myth that working from home results in less output from staff in any business. If anything we have never been busier.

For broadcast journalists, reporting for the television or radio has changed. Journalists need to be at least 2m away from their interviewees in order to record them. Putting packages together for television takes place in a car or van in a lot of cases. Social distancing needs to be maintained in studios.

It will be interesting to look back on this period in time in five years to see what changes journalists have kept from the coronavirus lockdown.”

Amy Forde (Ireland)