OPINION: Journalism is important, and coronavirus is showing us exactly why

an image composed of several icons. there is an icon of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the top of the image. at the bottom, from left to right, are icons of a video camera, a still photo camera, a pad of paper and pencil, and a news reporter speaking on a TV.
(Donnie TC Denome • The Student Life)

Every day at 12 p.m. my family gathers around our TV set. We tune in to the local news and watch California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s daily update on the state’s response to the coronavirus, a pandemic that has upended lives all over the world and forced many Americans into spending more time at home than ever, only to leave for the most essential tasks.

Throughout the day, my phone buzzes with notifications from news outlets about the latest news relating to the pandemic. I’ve been drawn in by stories of the effect of coronavirus on nature. And as an Asian American, I’ve related to articles about how Chinese Americans, months ago, were already experiencing the rollercoaster of emotions that all Americans now feel due to COVID-19.

I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for healthcare workers after reading a reporter’s coverage of a 12-hour EMT shift in New York and articles about selfless doctors and nurses who lack personal protective equipment, but still remain on the frontlines of the battle against coronavirus, as well as essential workers like housekeepers who have no choice but to go to work every day, despite the risks.

I’ve been moved by photos of empty streets and popular tourist destinations sans tourists, published on photographers’ Instagrams. And I’ve smiled at entertaining and oft-humorous reports of how people are keeping themselves entertained, as well as brightening others’ days, while in self-isolation. These have brought much-needed levity to my life.

I’m sure it’s the same for many other Americans. 

As one New York Times evening briefing in March stated, “The evening news is back as an American ritual. The network newscasts had lost relevance, thanks to cable and digital news media. Now, the coronavirus has put tens of millions of viewers back in the 6:30 p.m. habit.” For weeks in March, with almost 11 million nightly viewers, ABC’s “World News Tonight” was the top-rated show on TV. There has been an uptick in the number of visitors to the websites of news publications.

However, increased viewership and readership doesn’t automatically translate into increased profit for the struggling news industry. Though more Americans are also watching news from local TV stations, advertisers are cutting on spending because of coronavirus, and local newsrooms are laying off employees and may have to shut down. 

For example, the Portland Mercury saw an increase of 45 percent in traffic during the month of March, but the publication still expects advertising revenue to be cut by 90 percent

Publications looking to cut costs may soon be forced to cut coverage as well: the Tampa Bay Times, which has lost 50 percent of its advertisements, is starting to only deliver papers twice a week.

As many of us remain confined to our homes for the foreseeable future, news publications are bringing us the most important updates on coronavirus, information on how to stay protected and the truth when our president cannot. Newspapers are keeping us informed and helping us stay connected to the world outside the four walls of our own homes.

It’s no wonder that China expelled U.S. journalists from the country in mid-March in an attempt to cover up its initial failings to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and instead, spread a narrative of a quick response to COVID-19.

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If anything, the past few months and journalists’ consistent reporting on the coronavirus show us that journalism plays a vital role in our society. Despite the restrictions and stresses that have been placed on them by the pandemic, journalists and their work continue to serve as a reliable source of factual information and check on our government.

At a time when journalists have been struggling more than ever before, with 3000 news industry workers laid off in the first five months of 2019 and 500 daily newspapers closing between 1970 and 2016, reporters’ coverage of the coronavirus is demonstrating exactly why we need news publications. We need to recognize the value of good journalism before it disappears.

Without journalists, there would be no one to point out the shortcomings of our president in dealing with such a global crisis, or to tell us about the Navy captain who was fired for looking out for his crew. We wouldn’t know how to protect ourselves against a pandemic, and we wouldn’t hear the stories of the unrecognized grocery, domestic, healthcare and delivery workers who are risking their lives for us. 

Who will keep us informed of the truth, if not for journalists and the publications for which they work?

Michelle Lum HM ’23 is from San Jose, California. She’s always been passionate about newspapers, words and language, and fears the decline of the news industry as well as the disappearance of important global and local publications. While in quarantine, she has been spending too much time reading the news.

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