Pandemic and work

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a central topic for data journalists across the globe, challenging them to provide coverage for it, navigating hard to explain mechanisms behind contagion, variants, and protection, not to mention feeling the consequences of it at work and in their private lives.

ICFJ and Tow Center for Digital Journalism put together a study and in-depth research examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on journalism. Their first report showcases results from a spring 2020 survey spanning over 125 countries. The research reflects a grim picture of job cuts, the struggle to battle disinformation, and a decline in mental health. On the positive side, however, they found that journalists believed they saw an increase in trust in journalism. 

In this survey edition, we dedicated one section to the pandemic and asked data journalists to tell us how they have been affected by it.

Involvement in data journalism

We found that one quarter of our respondents actually became involved in data journalism as a result of the pandemic. On the one hand, this is the result of newsrooms allocating manpower to the coverage of the pandemic, which inherently data-driven. On the other hand, it could be that more journalists have become interested in data journalism due to the rise in the popularity of charts and data visualisations. Alternatively, perhaps they saw a need to participate in the coverage using techniques specific to data journalism.

Coverage of the pandemic

Over the course of 2021, more than half of data journalists surveyed (56%) have worked on a project that covered the COVID-19 pandemic in some fashion. Although news coverage and angles can differ substantially, this figure suggests the current pandemic is the most commonly shared topic covered by data journalists worldwide.

Impact of the pandemic

When examining the impact of the pandemic on data journalism, the most widespread views are that it has strengthened data journalism as a field (46%) and increased audience data literacy (43%). Well over one-quarter of data journalists also believe they’ve seen an improvement in access to data (28%).

Another positive effect, shared by 9% of respondents, is that the pandemic has made the job of data journalists easier. On the other end of the spectrum, however, 19% believe that the pandemic has made the jobs of data journalists more difficult, and 9% think it has weakened the field in some measure. We recognise that the phrasing of the options leaves things up for interpretation. For instance, one could deduce that the pandemic has made the job of data journalists both easier and harder in different ways. For example, it could have improved the working conditions of employees, but challenged their mental health or increased time pressure to deliver, or vice versa. By examining the results at face value, we conclude that data journalists view COVID-19 as having had a predominantly positive impact on establishing the field and informing audiences.

Rather than exploring their views on how the pandemic has affected data journalists at large, we here asked them to tell us about their personal work-related experiences. The good news is that when it comes to resources, workload, and time pressure, the majority deems themselves unaffected (all between 26% and 30%). The bad news is that more data journalists have otherwise been negatively rather than positively affected.

The survey showed 15% saw a big decrease in resources, and 17% a somewhat decrease in resources, totalling 32% of data journalists. But the biggest gap between positive and negative options is with time pressure: while 30% have been unaffected, 36% have seen their time pressure somewhat (19%) or highly (17%) increase. Similarly, 44% saw an increase in their workload, although 13% have instead seen a decrease.

In terms of work mode, the vast majority (40%) has switched to working from home, and 32% instead converted to a hybrid work policy. Finally, 19% continued working the same way they used to, may that have been from home (e.g. for freelancers) or from the office.

Skill improvements due to the pandemic

Finally, we asked our respondents to tell us where they felt their skills improved as a result of the pandemic. At the top of the charts, we found data analysis at 40%, followed by journalism at 39%, and data visualisation at 36%.

Cited work

  1. Posetti, J., Bell, E., & Brown, P. (2020). Journalism & The pandemic – A global
    snapshot of impacts
    . International Center for Journalists.