• ZdG vs COVID-19: Journalists’ Work in a Time of Pandemic

    ZdG vs COVID-19: Journalists’ Work in a Time of Pandemic
    03 May 2020 | 08:08

    When a calamity comes, no one asks the journalists how they feel. People simply wait for journalists to inform them. And the journalists do it, because this is what they learned to do and promised to do. No faculty of journalism taught about the pandemic. Therefore, we decided to share how we coped with it. We filled newspapers, websites and social media with information. And readers found us and shared with us hundreds of problems in the system that eventually became reality. The quarantine itself did not bother us. The limited access to information bothered us. And we will continue to fight this phenomenon under any circumstances.

    The Fight with COVID-19 is The Perfect Excuse For State Officials to Avoid Answering for Their Actions

    Victor Moșneag, Deputy Editor-in-chief

    At the beginning, the biggest challenge was to organize activities. I did not have an office chair at home, to work in a comfortable position. I had a laptop that I occasionally used before the quarantine, but I did not have a mouse for it. At first, even the thought of working from home was a challenge. I can concentrate and work efficiently, at maximum speeds only in an environment in which I am already accustomed, and at a familiar computer. It took me one week to get accustomed, and then other challenges came. The officials were answering only mobile phones and only questions that are convenient to them, or weren’t answering at all. There were also officials who avoid talking to you on the grounds that the country now needs positive information, not startling disclosures. The fight with COVID-19 is the perfect excuse for them to avoid answering for their actions. 

    The State Officials Refuse to Speak On The Ground That They Do Not Have The Ministry’s Approval

    Marina Ciobanu, Investigative Reporter

    Even before the COVID-19 crisis began, the state authorities did not show transparency in their activity. However, during the quarantine period, their constant attempt to hide information of public interest became even more obvious. I will offer three examples from my own experience. Since April 7, I have been waiting the Ministry of Health to answer questions about equipment, tests and other necessary things for the system. The press service keeps telling me that the superiors have not yet approved an answer. Previously, the Centralized Public Procurement Center in Health provided some public information regarding some procurements. However, now they restricted their communication telling us to contact the Ministry of Health for data. Moreover, the heads of some medical institutions refuse to share information on COVID-19 saying they do not have the approval of the Ministry to talk to ZdG.

    The Hardest Thing Was to Get Information About The Number Of Mechanical Ventilators 

    Marina Gorbatovschi, Zdg Reporter 

    The quarantine canceled many scheduled topics and frightened the heroes I had identified. At the same time, it taught me to lie without blinking an eye. I learned to tell lies to my mother. Before each of my field trips, I had a discussion with my mother. I had to pretend I was going shopping, that I forgot something at the newsroom and I needed it urgently. I had to lie that I was going to read or sleep, so I would not be found online. Everything worked fine, until the material for which I had to escape from the house, was published. My mother’s first reaction was silence, then resistance. In the end, she would admit that she could not be so brave. In the end, the ZdG community learned more information. The most difficult thing was to get information about the number of mechanical ventilators. Some heads of the hospital responded evasively, others offered answers after I begged for days, some accused me of spreading panic. This determined me to insist and find out the truth about the medical equipment in hospitals. Every citizen has the right to know the truth as the equipment is bought and maintained with public money. 

    The Most Difficult Thing Was to Find Out Better Ways

    Alina Radu, Executive Director

    The quarantine was an equation of an increasing difficulty. When we managed to solve one problem a more difficult task appeared. Since I am responsible for the efficient running of the newsroom, I have had to ask myself dozens of questions about how reporters and all remote employees will work. Does each of them have a laptop or computer at home? Does everyone have a safe working area? Does everyone have internet access? Those responsible for videos – do they have enough computer memory to edit? And if not, how to solve all these problems? Then, I had to think about the reporters who had to work on terrain. Where from do we get gloves, masks, and disinfectants? Where do we get the money to pay for all this? 

    Then the emergency calls from citizens began: patients, doctors, officials, travellers, young people, the elderly – hundreds of questions and requests. Who should answer them all, when and how to write about each and every one? Then I found out that some colleagues cough and others have a fever and some have a sore throat. The final straw was to find out accidentally that President Igor Dodon sued us, without sending us a citation. 

    We resolved all these problems gradually: disinfectants, masks, gloves, equipment, access to the net, money, my colleagues’ fever and cough. We also found a lawyer to deal with the trial with Dodon. We still have a problem. Although we have responded to hundreds of readers’ requests, many remained unanswered. However, the good news is that during the quarantine we had more news and texts on the website as well as more readers – more than in the entire history of ZdG for almost 16 years!

    We Will Continue to Deliver the Best News and Investigations Directly From The Kitchen, Bedroom or Living Room

    Anatolie Eșanu, Investigative Reporter

    Initially I did not realize the strictness of this pandemic and I thought we would stay locked in houses for two weeks at most. Soon, I realized that I would have to improvise my own newsroom at home. A small one, with only one employee. It is not easy though. Normally, a journalist does not work only in front of the computer. Much of the journalist’s activity is about working on terrain, in different parts of the country. However, now we had to give up several topics of public interest, which required documentation on the spot. In addition, due to the pandemic, other topics, which I had been working on for a long time, became irrelevant, out of date, thus messing up much of my work. Nevertheless, we don’t give up. Despite the fact that those in state institutions do not answer our phone calls, we will continue to deliver for our readers the best news and investigations directly from the kitchen, bedroom or living room.

    There Is a Gap Between the Authorities’ Interests and the Citizens’ Needs That Is Difficult To Overcome

    Aneta Grosu, Editor-in-chief

    I have been in journalism for many years. Nevertheless, it is the first time that for weeks in a row we create ZdG remotely, each employee being isolated in his/her house. It is a new experience and I am glad I got to live it. During this time, I learned many things, I regretted many failures, I was worried by the sad statistics, which I still believe is not objective, as the truth is concealed. Every Wednesday night, when the fresh newspaper is sent to the printing house, I think of all ZdG colleagues, as well as of the readers we work for with admiration, respect and gratitude. In these endless weeks, I grew aware there is a gap between the interests of the authorities and the citizens’ needs that is difficult to overcome. These pandemic days may teach us that it is our right to ask the authorities to solve problems, no matter how insignificant they may seem. And if the authorities continue to neglect them we can decide whether we give them a vote of confidence or not.

    Quarantine Still Restricts Our Access to Information

    Diana Gațcan, News Reporter 

    The quarantine makes people feel bored, but also keeps limiting our access to information. I kept calling public institutions to request answers, but I soon realized that no one was going to answer. When I did manage to reach to someone, the answer was the same: “no one is available to talk to you”, “Send a request for information by email.” It has become a challenge to get information even about what is happening in the medical system. They keep saying, “I’m busy” or “Don’t you understand that I have something more important to do?” We hope that after the pandemic, civil servants will be eager to provide information for us.

    We Overcome Frustration and Stay on Guard

    Cristina Dulea, News Reporter 

    After this period, I think I could become a war journalist. I would love it and I would be able to! Mask, gloves and self-isolation would not be of much use to me. During this period, I acquired endurance and determination, two important qualities that will make me return home, to the ZdG newsroom, victorious.

    I felt frustrated at not being able to get answers to the questions that ordinary people, including my mother, ask daily. And I was about to give in.  However, I learned to write about every phone call that the authorities did not answer. In times of pandemic or war, there are psychological or physical plagues, and we overcome barriers, overcome frustration and remain on guard to turn the effects of the new coronavirus into truthful information.

    I Edit Reports About Corruption with my Daughter in my Arms

    Andrey Muntean, Video Editor

    The quarantine was a big challenge for me. It was difficult to sit in front of the computer for hours and edit reports about corruption, when Ilinca, our two and a half-year-old daughter saw I was at home and requested my attention. I love my job, I want to make the best of it, but I also love my child. In these almost two months of #stayathome,  I learned to make materials about corruption with Ilinca in my arms.

    I Hope We Will Get Out of Quarantine with a Learned Lesson 

    Aliona Ciurcă, Zdg Reporter 

    The quarantine turned many plans upside down. I was working on some issues. I had lists of people to talk to, and all of a sudden, it all faded into the background. However, adapting to quarantined work was not the hardest task during this period as I discovered many good people. The hardest thing for me was to (re)discover how powerless I am and somehow to learn to accept it. I hope to get out of quarantine with some lessons learned on either side of the barricades. 

    The Covid Could Not Take our Job nor Silence Us

    Petru Grozavu, Politics Editor 

    Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 has driven us crazy. In a way, we are in conditions of undeclared war. The virus has somehow restricted us in rights and actions. It isolated us from the world. Nevertheless, there is still communication with the world. More difficult than it was, but it exists, thanks to the internet. The COVID-19 could not take our job nor silence us. Did it take us hostage? It depends on how each of us can resist it. There are still issues of freedom of speech, opinion, expression and freedom of personal life and other problems of society. We still do not have an answer to the question: when will this COVID-19 end?

    COVID-19 Cannot Stop Access to Information

    Diana Marian, Public Relations

    The newsroom’s phone rings incessantly, amid the pots, the online lessons and the homework of our second grade pupil. Readers inform us about their problems. They are worried about the situation of COVID-19 in Moldova. The old people who could not afford a subscription to ZdG due to limited budget, used to buy the newspaper from the newsstands. However, now they say that they miss ZdG, which provided them with clear and honest information. We try to listen patiently and to help everyone. During this period when life has moved online, we also receive calls from abroad. What will life be like after COVID-19? This is a question to which there is no exact answer. We urge our seniors to stay home and avoid contact, but to remain equally informed. COVID-19 cannot stop access to information. Take care!

    I Missed the Noise and the Busy Life at the Zdg Newsroom

    Cristina Carmanu, Editor, Zdg English Version  

    I was working from home before the quarantine began. There was no big difference, somehow I was already prepared. However, I missed the busy Thursday meetings, as well as the days when I was coming at the newsroom. I missed the noise and the vivacity of the Ziarul de Garda newsroom, I think this was the most difficult thing in quarantine. At the same time, it was not pleasant to inform the English-speaking audience about the corruption of the authorities during the pandemic.

    We Will Not Get Discouraged by the COVID-19

    Vitalie Munteanu, Design And Layout

    Home isolation stirred my creativity. Remote communication with several colleagues did not detract from our common intention and desire to make a newspaper that met the readers’ expectations. Even though I hardly left the house, I found out the most important information from my colleagues who write for ZdG. In these weeks, I understood that it is not the distances that matter, but rather the team cohesion. In these conditions, I can say that we will not get discouraged by the COVID-19.

    Communication and Obtaining Information Became Mostly Virtual

    Daniela Calmîș, Investigative Reporter 

    As a reporter, I found most difficult to adjust to a new reality during the quarantine. I had to accept that I can no longer enjoy the freedom as I used to in the past and that from now on communication and obtaining information have become almost entirely virtual. Thus, I could rely only on the phone to receive information. And when nobody answered the phone I could do nothing. At the same time, it was difficult to learn to collaborate remotely both with the people who provided information and with colleagues. And also to make sure we understood each other correctly.

    Uncertainty and Adaptation to a Different Future

    Daniela Bechet, Development Consultant

    Working from home involves a lot of written communication and more communication blunders (punctuation counts!). Working from home also removes barriers between family life and work. Well-trained teams are more resilient to organizing work remotely. We have a greater appreciation for efficiency, speed, creativity. The most difficult aspect of quarantine is waiting and the uncertainty. Will things ever return to the normal as they used to be before this February, or will we take over certain quarantine practices long after we overcome the state of emergency?

    Authorities Often Take Journalists’ Requests Personally

    Corina Șeremet, Zdg Reporter

    It was quite difficult for me to deal with numerous readers’ questions. Some answers were provided in the written articles. However, there are still many unanswered questions. People expect from us solutions and write to us when they do not trust authorities or doubt the legality of their acts. Officials often take journalists’ requests personally, and they show indignation when we ask for information that should be public. However, the press remains the linking tie and it can ask officials the questions directly when people do not have the courage to do it.

    Representatives of the Same Institution Gave Contradictory Answers to the Same Question 

    Nicoleta Braghiș, News Reporter, 

    The authorities provide little and sometimes vague information. However, as a journalist I have to explain very clearly the situation to the reader. I’ve addressed the same question to the same institution, but I’ve received two completely different answers. Other state institutions asked me to send the questions in writing, but hey never answered. While trying to speak with a specialist I was told that I had to contact the press service first. Subsequently, an article that could be published in no more than three hours appeared only the next day.

    I Understood That I Was Not Wrong in Choosing My Job

    Alina Frunză, News Reporter

    In isolation, I understood that I was not wrong in choosing my job. I miss my daily routine – 15 minutes’ walk to the office while enjoying my coffee, and then a day full of good people, news and events. The first week was the easiest. I was happy to be at home with my parents. However, the isolation became a torture by the seventh week. I am the person who prefers to spend time outside the house. And as a reporter, I can’t get used to #stayathome. This is the most difficult thing for me in quarantine.

    I am Working and Communicating with my Three-year-old Son, Who Wants to Do Everything with His Mother

    Aliona Cenușă, Finance Manager

    The isolation period came up with some essential challenges in my activity. First, it was necessary to adapt all processes for exclusively online activity: cooperation with distributors and business partners who sometimes had a different program from ours, the transmission of invoices on the basis of paper (the pile is large), signing contracts and other financial documents because few businesses are connected to electronic services.

    An electronic marathon followed to supply employees with disinfectants and protective equipment. Every day, I identified web pages that promised masks and gloves, but when I called I heard “we’re sorry; we don’t have anything at the moment.” 

    Another challenge was the timely submission of fiscal and statistical reports. The slower speed of the Internet made the signing and transmission process longer. All this work was done while communicating with my three-year-old son, who wanted to process documents with his mother and talk over the phone with companies or participate in online meetings. 

    Despite all these issues, all financial obligations were met. Salaries paid. Taxes and fees transferred to the state. Reports submitted. Raw materials for editing and printing ZdG procured. And contractual obligations honored.

    People’s Interest in News Has Increased a Lot

    Cristian Jardan, Social Media Manager

    I have often said that working from home is harder than working from the office. You no longer understand when is your day off. And when you have to write or do something important you hear in your ear “Dad, I’m hungry, I want to pee, you don’t pay any attention to us, look what we did, let’s play, etc.” It goes like this every day…

    It is true, during this period, people’s interest in the news increased a lot. All indicators have increased a lot. The traffic on the site increased, and especially on social media networks. In April, we completed two video reports that have together over 3 million views. 

    The Telegram channel, the Facebook page and the Instagram account have grown exponentially. However, it is very sad that the authorities, especially the heads in the medical system have decided that ZdG is their opponent, and they do not answer questions. They do it only through their press services and most of the time they respond irascible and with many reproaches. It saddens me that the anonymous letters received from doctors, employees of the system confirmed irregularities and revealed grave problems in the system.

    Fast Working Regime and Contradictory Officials’ Statements 

    Olga Bulat, Editor, Russian Edition

    At first, the idea of ​​working from home was not really a challenge. I do it every night and on weekends. However, when your computer stops functioning exactly on the day when you have to print the newspaper all you have to do is run to the newsroom. I reached the newsroom in about 60 minutes at a brisk pace, but that was not easy given that a month ago I underwent surgery. Difficult, but not impossible.

    I later realized that since I work from home, I sleep less and spend more time in front of the computer. The time spent on the way to and from work is now work time when I try to combine work at the site, newspaper, projects, scenarios, etc. In the meantime, I listen to the contradictory statements of the officials and realize that we should put them in a one-year quarantine for every disastrous decision that subsequently affects the lives of the citizens.

    The Authorities Organize Conference that We Can Only Observe

    Diana Severin, Reporter, News

    One of the most difficult things we face every day is the lack of information from authorities. We are forced to watch as simple observers the conferences organized by the Moldovan authorities. We have no right to ask questions, or clarification about the information presented. Subsequently, we search for answers by calling doctors, ministry staff or other sources who due to lack of time cannot always give us answers. As journalists, we need a professional and fair communication with the authorities. This is an essential condition to achieve and present quality information. Journalists do editorial work, but they also have to adjust to the times. And during this pandemic, we are trying to achieve this goal. 

    I Have the Impression That my Introvert Nature Felt Very Good in This Isolation

    Katerina Alexandr, Photojournalist

    The quarantine ruined some of my plans to make some reports that I really wanted. I had to lock a list of topics in the drawer. Instead, I did other things that, in my opinion, caught on well with the public. I cannot say that I ran into difficulties during this period. On the contrary, I have the impression that my introverted nature felt good in this isolation. I moved my office home and realized that quietness helps me focus better. I photographed and filmed deserted streets and people wearing masks, ambulances and equipped doctors at the gates of hospitals. And from the few opportunities to work on terrain outside the city, I understood that happiness is in small things, which we most often do not notice.

    AUTHOR MAIL eng.zdg@gmail.com


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