The covid-19 pandemic negatively affected the working conditions of the majority of Brazilians. Some of the groups most impacted are those who belonged to the so-called “front line”, including press professionals. To portray the reality of this group during the period, journalist Marcelo Freitas gathered 63 interviews with reporters, editors, photographers and advisors in the book “We were also on the front line – As Histórias do Jornalismo na Pandemia” (Comunicação de Fato), published in August 2022. The work was a finalist for the 45th Vladimir Herzog Amnesty and Human Rights Award, in the book-report category.
“Journalism rarely produces reports that show its own routine”, explains the author, when commenting on his motivations for the work. “If I didn’t collect the stories [dos jornalistas] of oblivion, they would fall into limbo.” Freitas, who was a professor of journalism courses and worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Minas Gerais, highlights the interviews he did with editors to understand the treatment of information during the almost three years of the pandemic. The core of his work was to monitor what was a priority at that moment – isolation, contagion, vaccination – and assign news value. “The news about the pandemic had its specificities, and I tried to capture that.”
The journalist also spoke with communications advisors and spoke about the relationship between journalists, public bodies and scientists. Made difficult by the political moment, communication between the press and the Ministry of Health forced a rapprochement between national vehicles and state health departments, which the author indicates as a particularity born of the pandemic. “Due to the attempt to withhold information by the federal government, journalists began to seek information from its primary source”, he explains, and continues: “this also impacted regional media; It was highly credible information.”
Another important highlight of the period was the creation of the Press Media Consortium, one of the largest joint operations of the Brazilian press in its history. For the author, some characteristics of the consortium contributed to its uniqueness: its duration of more than two years (June 8, 2020 to January 28, 2023); and the reach of its composition, which brought together the largest media outlets in the country (O Estado de S. Paulo, G1, O Globo, Extra, Folha de S. Paulo and UOL). The pandemic and the political context put competition from media conglomerates in the background, prioritizing the importance of journalism’s role at that time.
In addition to the impacts on journalism on a national scale, the daily lives of professionals were portrayed in an obvious way in the book, through testimonies. For Freitas, what caught his attention most were the challenges of transitioning work in the newsroom to the remote model. There were many aspects that overloaded journalists in what he called a “technical operation”: in addition to the physical change of the work space, professionals produced stories daily about the pandemic, while confined.
For women journalists, he highlighted, the impacts were even more severe. “There was an accumulation of working hours: producing news and taking care of home and family.” An article published by researchers from the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) revealed that women journalists were the main ones affected by the overexploitation of the profession’s new work organizations. In another study, conducted by the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj) at the beginning of the pandemic, around 86% of journalists with children felt overwhelmed.
In an assessment of the press’ performance during the pandemic, the author regrets the time lost to combat misinformation, which could not be avoided in the face of the large wave of fake news. “This time could have been better used to provide guidance on symptoms, guidance on vaccination.” The volume of so-called “fake news” was a form of epidemic in itself and ultimately set up a narrative dispute between journalists and deniers. Despite all the “buts” portrayed in the book, Freitas says he has no doubt that the work of the press was fundamental in saving thousands of lives. “If it weren’t for journalism, the number of deaths would have been much higher. Incomparably greater.”
We were also on the front line – Journalism stories during the pandemic
Author: Marcelo Freitas
Publisher: Comunicação de Fato
Image credits: Union of Professional Journalists of Minas Gerais