Nineteen journalists from five Eastern Partnership countries participated in the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s COVID-19 Crisis Reporting Hub training from July 7 to September 29.
Addressing the urgent need to facilitate access to accurate information during the current health emergency, the Hub was launched by the Foundation to equip journalists with the skills they need to report on the pandemic and counter misinformation.
This is the second cohort of reporters to have participated in the Hub’s training, with journalists from sub-Saharan Africa completing the programme earlier this year. Plans are underway to scale the initiative to Latin America and the Middle East, as well as to other regions in Africa.
As the programme drew to a close, one participant reflected on her experience:
By Tetiana Bezruk, reporter for UA:PBC, the national public broadcaster in Ukraine
Earlier this year I saw an announcement about the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s COVID-19 Crisis Reporting Hub training. I wasn’t sure if I should apply, as at the time Ukraine’s lockdown was easing; people were back walking in parks, visiting museums, having breakfast in cafes - life was gradually getting back to normal.
But there was still a lot of uncertainty around, and as a journalist, I felt that I had a duty to spotlight the pandemic’s impact on our lives and livelihoods – from people losing their jobs and small businesses shutting down, to those who had sadly lost loved ones and the mounting pressures on our health services. With the Hub’s focus on equipping journalists with the core skills and information they need to report on the pandemic, and its effect on economies, health care systems and communities, it seemed like the perfect fit.
Another reason I applied to the Hub was its sessions dedicated to journalism ethics. This was something I had wanted to learn more about, as during the first wave of the pandemic, I had a phone call with a woman whose sister had died after contracting COVID-19. I had chosen my words carefully, not wanting to hurt her with my questions. For me, as a journalist, it was important to find out how she got infected: did it happen in the hospital, where she was at the time, or at home? It is always difficult to talk about death, and I always try to be as empathetic as possible to people who are grieving. But it’s also the job of a journalist to collect information and find out what happened - especially in the context of COVID-19 when our contact with doctors and health workers is so limited. It’s a difficult balancing act, and sometimes I’m unsure as to how I should handle these sensitive situations.
I also wanted to learn more about safety best practices, particularly after travelling to Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region during lockdown to report on the forest fires that had destroyed several villages. I was wearing a mask and gloves for most of the trip because that is our new reality, and you have to protect yourself. You can no longer just focus on the heroes and their stories, as without proper planning and an adequate supply of equipment, such as masks and antiseptic, it’s impossible to make that essential contact with people and report from the frontlines.
Throughout the Hub’s twelve-week training, my understanding of the pandemic, and health reporting more generally, grew considerably. It was also great to form friendships with the other participants, so much so that the Hub’s sessions became a kind of therapy for me; I could get advice on the challenges I was facing, whilst also helping my colleagues from across Eastern Europe through sharing my experiences and learnings.
One of the highlights of the Hub was being connected with key experts, in particular a World Health Organization (WHO) representative, a social media specialist and a media trainer who focused on trauma. Back in the spring, I had tried to arrange an interview with the WHO as I had a lot of queries around COVID-19 forecasts and vaccines, but I was denied. So having the opportunity to ask these questions - the answers of which have since informed my reporting - was invaluable. It was also helpful to learn about utilising social media to draw attention to important coronavirus facts, especially as more and more people are experiencing ‘pandemic fatigue’. And whether you’re a war correspondent or a journalist that covers natural disasters or pandemic mortality, learning about trauma is always relevant. At work, you may not pay full attention to the emotional side of your stories, but when you close your laptop and get back home, thoughts about the people you write about are still there with you.
I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to be part of the Hub’s training. I wish more journalists could get such a chance. A chance to acquire accurate and relevant knowledge about the pandemic that reporters desperately need here and now. A chance to examine the impact of COVID-19 through a broader lens. A chance to hear stories from fellow journalists based in different countries, and the opportunity to share yours. A chance to work with experienced mentors, develop your own stories and to be better equipped to quickly react to the unfolding situation in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and around the world.