Journalists battling COVID-19 on the frontlines
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THIS past year has, undoubtedly, been a challenging period for journalists everywhere. Not only did we continue to work on the frontlines as essential workers, but we have lost colleagues and loved ones, and we have been fighting against rampant social media misinformation.

Last week, a colleague wrote an article that detailed how media workers continue to grapple with COVID-19. The work journalists did to provide information to the public, especially during a time of great uncertainty over this novel coronavirus, was highlighted.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists and media workers generally, did not have much leeway to stay home. If we are to focus on the health sector and the COVID-19 pandemic alone, it was the responsibility of journalists to help the public understand what this new virus was and what devastating impact it could have on lives and livelihoods. But, journalism includes all other sectors as well, including crime and security, business, education and law.

Like the health workers and members of the joint services, members of the media placed ourselves and our families at risk every day because we had to come out and work.

It should surprise no one that quite a few members of the media contracted SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes the disease, COVID-19. After all, we frequent hospitals, large gatherings and many other places that would be conducive to the spread of COVID-19.

It was the news of the death of veteran journalist Mondale Smith that truly struck me, however. On May 31, myself and many of my colleagues were plunged into a state of sadness over the passing of Mondale, who always appeared to be larger than life itself.

The former journalist was reportedly experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19 and as such, was hospitalised. He reportedly died from complications.

Aside from being grief-stricken that someone so vibrant and so loved by hundreds of people died from this virus, it was, perhaps, sobering that only a few days before he died, he pleaded with people to be more responsible as we all tried to navigate the pandemic.

In a short post on his Facebook page, Mondale said, “Dear people, diagnosed as being Corona/COVID-19 positive, you are not being responsible when you decide to go out and party and hang out. You are supposed to be at home relaxing and healing/recovering.”

He lamented an experience he had with a woman who was, apparently, COVID positive, but was out socialising with a number of people. Cognisant of how the virus has easily spread from person to person, this was highly irresponsible and who knows how many other people could have contracted the virus from that one person?

Mondale spoke out against these irresponsible actions but shortly after, he himself succumbed to the deadly disease.

Just a few months ago, communications specialist and journalist Namela Baynes-Henry also passed away after being hospitalised with the more severe symptoms of COVID-19. My colleagues at the Guyana Chronicle were truly distraught at her passing, since the Chronicle was one of the last places she had worked.

Suffice to say, it has been a year of great losses for members of the media; and, the loss of Mondale and Namela is exacerbated by the fact that they died from something we, literally, report on every day, encouraging people to adhere to the guidelines and to keep safe.

Now, in addition to the challenges of being on the frontlines, journalism has been plagued, in no small way, by rampant social media misinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic, more than anything else I have experienced, has opened the floodgates for irresponsible posts, myths and a festering of people’s fears.

Again, just focusing on the health sector, reporting on COVID-19 has been a masterclass in patience and trying to provide credible, scientific information to the masses, so that they can make informed decisions. It has meant that journalists have to counter some of the myths associated with the COVID-19 vaccines, for example, while ensuring that the public has access to information on both the advantages and disadvantages of the vaccines.

All in all, journalism has evolved during this pandemic- beyond just the shift to online work. It has brought with it numerous challenges for the men and women who work diligently to keep the nation informed. I see the work of my colleagues every day and I, for one, appreciate it.

If you would like to connect with me to discuss this column or any of my previous works, feel free to email me at vish14ragobeer@gmail.com

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