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#Covid-19. Media Managers Are Preparing for Hard Times and Financial Loss

25 March 2020
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While the audience of several news sites and television broadcasters in the Republic of Moldova grew significantly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the editorial work was affected. The staff of online media outlets, for instance, work remotely, and some televisions divided their teams to mitigate the risk of infection and the possible suspension of the broadcast. Contacted by Media Azi, several press managers shared how they work in times of crisis, why the people who clean the offices became extremely important, what will happen to the advertising market and why a journalist from Balti risks being fined tens of thousands of lei for not observing the quarantine requirements.

#lucramacasa

Mariana Rata from TV8 said that television employees (editors, producers, reporters, cameramen, drivers, etc.), around 80 people, were divided into two teams that do not interact with one another. "There are two smaller teams now, almost the same size, taking turns by weeks. These people do not interact with one other at all. That’s because if one case of coronavirus infection is detected in one of the teams, the other one remains unaffected and able to work at least while the first team is quarantined", the journalist explained. At the same time, the reporters responsible for the website continue to work in self-isolation.

In her opinion, the measures introduced by the management of TV8 are "radical, complicated, make our work difficult, but protect the team." The TV8 representative claims that the cleaner became "extremely important in the institution, because it ensures the disinfection of all the objects we touch," and the reporters and cameramen do not go on the field without masks, disinfectant and gloves.

The TV8 management also decided that journalists should not go to hospitals and other risk areas. "We’d rather not work on a product that could look sensational in favor of protecting our team, because their health is the most important right now. Without them we would not be able to continue broadcasting," Mariana Rata concluded.

The editorial office of Ziarul de Garda also works from home. The director of the publication, Alina Radu stated that the pandemic has ‘struck a harsh blow’ on the team’s activity because, on the one hand, the employees were forced to comply with the sanitary safety standards and to retire in their homes, and on the other hand, there was a large flow of requests for information from citizens.

Similar measures were used in the local editorial office of SP Balti. The Director Veaceslav Perunov mentioned that in the week following the one in which the first case of coronavirus in the Republic of Moldova was confirmed, the team tried to work in the office, but then gave it up. "Only those who need something urgent come," the journalist pointed out.

Work at Maximum Speed vs Financial Distress

Working from home does not mean less work at all. On the contrary. "Journalists work very hard because there is a large amount of information that needs to be processed. We have 7-8 people who are responsible for writing the news and also of sharing it on social media," said the head of SP Balti. He also mentioned that the publication has financial problems and is looking for additional resources to pay employees who work 12-14 hours a day.

This was also confirmed by Alina Radu. "We had to work a lot, in shifts, from dawn until midnight every day. People ask us details about the health status of the victims, about the double standards of the authorities, about the equipment in institutions, about transport, fees, public insurance, security. (...) We are trying to fulfill deontological tasks while also observing the reporters’ rights to health and safety," the Director of ZdG said. According to the journalist, in addition to the technical changes that are required for remote work, it is also necessary to find financial solutions. Moreover, newspapers are not out for sale now because newsstands and other places selling them were closed.

Even television has it hard in these circumstances, Mariana Rata admitted: "We were not so many to start with, but now we have two field reporters who provide us with the required amount of footage for the broadcast, given that we have 5-6 newscasts a day. Of course people are exhausted."

‘Advertising Is Dead’

Mariana Rata believes that the pandemic will ‘harm’ the press a lot and admits honestly that ‘advertising is dead’. "We cannot tell now how much we will be affected, but we’ll certainly be, because the active businesses are also blocked, they are quarantined. The advertising budgets will obviously decrease because everyone will have to review their marketing strategy, expenses and available resources. This epidemic turned many things upside down. What worked so far, might not work so well from now on. Besides, we don't know how long the problem will last."

Veaceslav Perunov also believes that the volume of advertising will decrease. For now, the institution focused on the providers that offer delivery services. "In our small town, people were rather shopping by themselves. Currently, because they have to buy online, we helped them with our information register about all the companies in Balti and the companies that deliver products."

Radu Chivriga, the co-founder of the Privesc.eu portal, admitted he had the same fears as his colleagues. "Considering that all the events of March, April, May were canceled, the company reduced maximally the expenses because nobody gives any guarantee as to when things will go back to normal. First of all, all we have to do is to take care of our employees and to make savings," he told us.

Online Audience Is Growing During the Pandemic

Recently, the audience of the portals managed by journalists approached by Media Azi has increased, despite the negative impact in many ways. "The audience watching the TV is not so big and has nowhere to grow much from even during this period. People still choose to be online," Mariana Rata from TV8 said.

The same is true for the esp.md portal. "At first, we recorded an increase of audience on behalf of those from abroad, especially from Belarus (I don't know why) – one piece of news had more than 120,000 visits. Now, Balti residents and the rest of the country are mainly visiting our website," said Perunov. "The increase in traffic shows that people trust the independent media and look for news about the coronavirus, especially in the reliable mass-media, skeptically looking on social media because of several fake news there, a lot of spam."

Why the Director of SP Could Be Penalized?

Veaceslav Perunov said that he returned to Moldova after a trip abroad on the night of 11 to 12 March. After he announced the authorities that he had returned from abroad, he was forced to self-isolate.

The journalist confessed that one time only he left the house to go to the office to pick up a computer cable so he could work in self-isolation and that he wore a mask and gloves. Shortly afterwards, he was visited by police and taken to the police station for explanations. "I risk being fined MDL 22,000. I don’t have this amount of money, I don’t know what to do. The authorities’ view on such cases is too stiff. I didn’t go to buy beer, I went out for work-related purposes," Perunov said.

The SP manager claimed that he had no Covid-19 specific symptoms and that his quarantine period was to expire soon. "My colleagues bring me food and take out the garbage. I am totally isolated", he concluded, hoping that only a warning would be applied to him in regard to his going out.