Freelancers facing unprecedented challenges during COVID19 pandemic
Journalists are among the frontline workers who have been out ensuring the public gets its news despite the risks of the novel coronavirus. In most of the world, journalists are considered essential, allowing them the freedom to move around and report on the pandemic. But I’ve also been hearing from freelancers and organizations that support them that editors have starting to shy away from assigning work to freelancers, both because of the economic tsunami created by the pandemic that has eviscerated advertising budgets and because outlets were unable to take responsibility for freelancer safety if they were to get sick on an assignment.
In many cases, freelance journalists must contend not only with the health hazards of COVID-19, but also the dangers of covering civil unrest as the protests that have swept the United States, Hong Kong and the Philippines attest. While all journalists and their crews face these threats, freelancers are among the most vulnerable and are risking their lives and livelihoods to bring us the news. And photojournalists and videographers are particularly at risk because they must be on, or near, the frontlines to do their jobs.
As a press freedom advocate and journalism myself, I’ve been focused over the past several weeks on trying to understand the impact of this novel coronavirus on this at-risk community of journalists and what the industry is doing to help them continue working as safely as possible.
In a recent article for CPJ I wrote about the challenges that quarantine and shelter-in-place orders pose for journalists and those they cover, particularly, marginalized communities; the impact that delays and cancellation of assignments have; and the difficulty of getting personal protective equipment (PPE). (Read the full article here)
The alliance of industry and civil society groups know as ACOS Alliance, which stands for A Culture of Safety, has mobilized to support these freelancers by making sure that the editors they work with have a better understanding of the safety issues they should be considering, and how to talk about these with freelancers, who are in a vulnerable position in the power dynamics of the relationship. Ensuring that a reporter has the personal protective equipment (PPE), pre-assignment planning and support they need to work safely has become critical for any commissioning editor to consider. Freelancers are at particular risk because they often lack access to PPE and adequate insurance, and may not be paid for an assignment until well after the fact. I cover these issues further in my article for IJNet, which you can read in full here.
I’m also really interested in exploring the economic impact, how freelancers are or are not included in governmental subsidy or relief schemes (given that they are part of the original gig economy),and how the news industry will adjust amid vast layoffs and declining ad revenues. As IWMF’s deputy director put it so well:
“I know everybody is focused on what the impact will be to the larger industry and to small and medium newsrooms. You know, people are talking about how this is going to kill local news. But I think we also know from the way the industry has shifted that a lot of journalism, especially international journalism, is built on the backs of freelancers
Reach out if you’re a freelance journalist or commissioning editor, or leave a comment.