On July 7th, 19 journalists from five Eastern Partnership countries – Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan – logged on to the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s COVID-19 Crisis Reporting Hub, a twelve-week online programme designed to equip journalists with the core skills and information they need to report on the pandemic and its impact on economies, health care systems and communities.
In the Eastern Partnership region, where Russian propaganda is rife, it is very important for journalists to have a source of balanced, reliable information and to work according to international journalistic standards. The Crisis Reporting Hub programme is delivered in Russian by trainers from Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Great Britain and the USA. It combines knowledge useful for COVID-19 coverage with practical skills development.
Participants convene twice a week to learn about editorial aspects of covering COVID-19 - interviewing scientists, working with economic data, writing about vulnerable communities, and fact-checking. The programme also covers essential journalism skills such as news production, story writing, pitching, and interviewing, among other things.
As part of the programme, two online events with experts have taken place. The first was with Eric Livny, Regional Lead Economist for Central Asia at European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Pavlo Kukhta, former Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Economy, who were asked about the future of EaP economies and the impact of lockdown on these economies. At the second event, Dr Oleg Storozhenko, a WHO medical doctor, spoke about possible strategies for combatting COVID-19, the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic, and prospects of developing a vaccine. Both these sessions were on the record, and most participants have used the information they received to publish news for their media outlets in Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Halfway through the programme, participants remarked that their editorial thinking has improved. “Thanks to the training, I began to pay more attention to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy of states, regions and even small towns in my country. At the same time, the program teaches me not to forget about the human dimension, about the fact that behind every loan, interest rate and assistance from the state there are real destinies of local entrepreneurs, farmers and people who have been left without work,” said Alina Mikhalkina, a journalist with nokta.md in Moldova.
Oleksandr Khomenko, a photo editor at Hromadske TV in Ukraine, added: “The key takeaways for me at the moment were the parts about the challenges of covering COVID-19, and talking to economy experts”.
Many participants appreciated the international perspective of the course, with trainers, mentors, experts and trainees hailing from many countries and backgrounds. Armine Martirosyan, a correspondent for Caucasian Knot in Armenia, said: “During the training I have met international experts, opinions of which I use in my work. This makes the stories more balanced and valuable. And I found new angles to cover the COVID-19 pandemic”.
A journalist from Ukrainian online news site LB.ua, Anastasiya Ivantsiv, described the benefits of being a part of an international group online, saying: “At the time of global social distancing, participation in the Hub has given me the opportunity to join a group, so I do not feel like I am left alone with a whole set of new professional challenges. It is very useful for me to learn how to work in “a new normal” reality together with colleagues from other publications and countries”.
This programme is running until the 25th of September. Participants will be joining webinars and online seminars devoted to multimedia storytelling, journalism ethics, media law aspects of COVID-19 coverage, social media management, and working with trauma. At the end of the programme, participants will publish feature stories on the COVID-19 pandemic, with support from dedicated mentors.