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‘Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi’: Of journalism, nadir monje and endless chatter

Yaad-e-maazi azab hai ya RAAB! (The events of the past so torment me)

Cheen le mujh say hafiza mera (Lord!! That I want to take away all of my memories)

The evening gossip, the musical evenings, and the street food that used to be part of our daily newsroom activities have now disappeared. A year or so has been full of struggles- on the professional as well on the personal front. The pandemic has not only consumed precious lives but has taken away the feel of life.

I still remember the days when the newsroom was full of people and energy. The mornings were fresh and the evenings cheerful. The urgency to reach the office before our editor was so that sometimes we used to take breakfast somewhere in the local tea shop on way to the office. The dedicated computer systems allotted to us were first priority to grab upon followed by pre-noon tea.

The afternoons were filled with gossip and discussion on numerous issues- hard to mention one by one and the evenings were hectic as well as exciting. The musical evening sessions, the cricket matches, and the arguments with designers were moments, we still cherish.

The local street food especially Pakodas, Nadir Monje use to further lift the mood in the evenings.

But the pandemic has taken away all these blessings from us. Journalists and journalism as a whole have suffered a lot.

For journalists reporting on the crisis, or producing editorial content,  kitchens, and bedrooms have been an unrelenting slog. Heightened anxiety, feelings of isolation, and depression have further taken a toll on our health.

The Journalism and the Pandemic Project from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University have published the first large-scale global survey of journalists since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The project is mapping the impacts of COVID-19 on journalism worldwide, informing responses to the crisis, and helping to reimagine its future.

The first 30 findings from the project — based on responses from more than 1,400 English-speaking journalists from 125 countries — are both startling and disturbing. At a time when the public needs to rely on credible independent journalism to stay safe and informed, journalists and news organizations are grappling with a mental health crisis, financial peril, physical safety threats, and press freedom attacks, while simultaneously battling the pandemic levels of disinformation.

According to data by the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), since the beginning of March last year, which is when they started tracking, till December 26, 585 journalists have died in 57 countries. India is the second-most affected with 53 deaths, preceded only by Peru with 93 deaths.

The work from home environment is not at all soothing for a profession like journalism. The journalists feel choked at home and the online meetings don’t give the feel of a real newsroom experience. Besides, this pandemic has worsened the financial conditions of journalists too.

Many journalists lost jobs and many publishing houses were shut. India’s media industry is in a crisis. The industry responded by massively cutting jobs and salaries, with several big organizations closing bureaus and editions.

In April last year, The New York Times estimated that 36,000 workers at news outlets had been laid off, or had their positions reduced, since the beginning of the outbreak. Legacy publications and new media alike have slashed their rosters, and national and local outlets are being forced to make difficult decisions about who will stay, and who will go.

In India too, hundreds of journalists lost their jobs and are struggling to meet their daily needs.

But after so much distress and pain, the hope for resuming daily life was almost sure, till we were stuck with another deadlier wave of COVID19. Hopes of resuming daily office, enjoying those sips of tea with colleagues have again been shattered. But this too shall pass, and we will again be back to our daily routine and we will again enjoy those memories.