Journalism during COVID-19: Here’s why remote opportunities are more vital than ever

JOURNALISM DURING COVID-19: HERE'S WHY REMOTE OPPORTUNITIES ARE MORE VITAL THAN EVER.

By Nicole Chang

A few months ago, I left my full-time journalism job and decided to become a freelancer – in a country (France) halfway across the world from Singapore, where I’m from.

Obviously, this wasn’t the most sensible decision to make in the middle of a raging global pandemic. But among the precariousness that comes with jumping from a permanent staff role into the unsalaried void of freelance life, I’ve found a silver lining: Now that we’re all housebound, virtual life is flourishing like never before. And with that comes opportunity.

A few months ago, I left my full-time journalism job and decided to become a freelancer – in a country (France) halfway across the world from Singapore, where I’m from.

Obviously, this wasn’t the most sensible decision to make in the middle of a raging global pandemic. 

But among the precariousness that comes with jumping from a permanent staff role into the unsalaried void of freelance life, I’ve found a silver lining: Now that we’re all housebound, virtual life is flourishing like never before. And with that comes opportunity.

From open-access spreadsheets listing how much top global publishers pay, to social media support groups and Zoom masterclasses on pitching, CV guidance and everything in between, access to remote resources that so many people have so generously provided has been vital for my sanity.

But of course, I’m also one of the lucky ones – in the face of job cuts, furloughs and soaring unemployment, for many people, freelancing has become a necessity and not a choice.

Online freelancing platform Freelancer.com last month reported an upsurge in users since early March, with around 35,000 new users per day signing up from around the world. 

“Many workers who found themselves jobless have turned to freelancing to supplement their income,” said CEO Matt Barrie, in a press release for the company’s latest quarterly report on industry trends.

And if it’s bad enough for those who (myself included) are fortunate enough to already have experience on the career ladder, it’s even harder for young people graduating into COVID-19.

In the UK, research by social mobility charity The Sutton Trust earlier this year found that over three-fifths (61%) of employers offering work experience placements have had to cancel their schemes. And almost half (48%) of organisations surveyed said they thought there would be fewer of these opportunities in their businesses over the next year.

Meanwhile UK think-tank the Resolution Foundation has said “even three years after having left full-time education, we estimate that the employment rate of this year’s graduates could be 13% lower than it would have been absent the crisis”.

The pandemic has meant bleaker prospects for young journalists starting out – fewer in-person internships, fewer jobs to go into after graduation – and many of them will undoubtedly be deciding to freelance whether out of necessity or choice.

And that’s why remote resources are more vital than ever.

It’s no secret that the media industry has a diversity issue (and of course you’re reading this on PressPad’s blog, so you already know that!).

But remote opportunities are a small step in lowering barriers to access. Anyone with access to the Internet – in my case, a newbie freelancer logging on from Southeast Asia and France – can join, quite often for free.

In a time of anxiety and dwindling opportunity, free online masterclasses, workshops and panels can step in to provide much-needed avenues for learning, networking and community, especially for those just starting out.

From April to July, PressPad Remote saw people attending its programme of free masterclasses and clinics from all over the world – signing up from France, Poland, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Kenya, among other places.

One of these was Aina de Lapparent Alvarez, a 23-year-old freelance journalist and master’s student, who attended a PressPad Remote masterclass from France.

“I want to work both in French-speaking, English-speaking  and possibly Spanish-speaking media, but I have less access to English-speaking media mentorship and networking workshops, opportunities and the like,” she said.

“Not being a native language speaker, I feel like it’s a bit more of a gamble to bet on us. I feel an editor might be more reluctant,” she said. “There’s a lot of insider knowledge, inside cultural knowledge.”

“As a freelancer, you want to work with different media and different publications because you have to; it’s a slightly different mindset, and when you’re coming from a different country it’s even harder.”

Aina de Lapparent Alvarez

But given the pandemic, as both Aina and I have found, opportunities that might have previously come about only through in-person contacts or conversations are now easier to access when things are remote and open to a wider audience.

“I feel that now, because everything is remote, there are a lot of things I have the same access to as someone who is in the US or UK,” she said. 

“I feel (before), there were mentorships, networking opportunities happening more through friends of friends – ‘my aunt knows someone who’s in journalism, do you want to talk with them’ – or through schools.

“And well now, since everything is online … all of us who have reliable Internet are kind of on an equal footing.”

The current COVID-19 pandemic is temporary (even though it’s hard to remember this sometimes). But let’s hope remote programmes stick around, even after we can meet again in person.

Nicole Chang (@NicoleChangLin) is a Singaporean journalist based in Paris. She is part of the fundraising team for PressPad’s crowdfunding campaign #PassItOn, which is raising money to put on a second season of free, remote opportunities for young journalists, #PressPadRemote.