Increased workload, declining employee productivity and insufficient government help
The negative impact of the corona virus on the work of journalists was confirmed by 86% of employees, who were surveyed as part of a research conducted in October.
The research included employees in online media, as well as editors and owners of online media, and was done within the project that we are implementing with the support of the International Federation of Journalists.
When it comes to the effect that the virus had on their work, the respondents agree that in most cases there was an increase in the volume of work. Also, working conditions were difficult for a third of the respondents, and 15% of them reported that their salaries were reduced during the pandemic.
More than half of the respondents (59%) said that their work in the newsroom was changed during the pandemic, while about 32% of them said that their work in the newsroom was partially changed. 9% of respondents said that there was no change in work, even during the pandemic. The absolute majority of respondents (more than 70%) said that the media outlet they work for enabled work from home, but, among them, there were those media that enabled this only at the request of employees (18%). The research showed that online media in Montenegro enabled their employees to work from home for a longer period of time. Thus, 36% of employees said that they worked from home for more than three months, the same number of them worked from home for one to three months, while slightly less than 14% of journalists in digital media worked from home for less than 30 days. Among them were those who pointed out that they usually work from home, which is actually one of the problems that the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro regularly points out. Slightly less than 10% of respondents also said that they worked both from home and from the newsroom.
The research further showed that online media managers in Montenegro had clear guidelines for their employees and thus made it easier for them to work in changed conditions. 95.5% of respondents said they had clear guidelines. However, the pandemic affected the extension of their working day. Thus, the working day of employees lasted on average longer than six hours, and in 23% of cases even longer than eight hours.
One third of employees believe that working from home during the pandemic affected the private lives of employees.
But that did not discourage them from wanting to work from home in the future. Judging by the results of the survey, if they could choose, 41% of respondents would still like to work from home. This decision was not even influenced by the fact that, as they themselves testify, it is harder to reach interlocutors and conduct stories during the pandemic. The epidemic did not affect the way stories and interlocutors were reached by a third of the respondents, but it affected 32% of them to be more careful in their work. But despite the difficulties, the interviewed journalists did not seek advice and support from any association of journalists or unions. Also, respondents believe that the recommendations and advice sent by the TUMM during the pandemic were useful.
In order to protect themselves during the pandemic, the employees asked of the TUMM to appeal to the state authorities not to discriminate against smaller digital media, especially having in mind the fact that they were excluded from state aid. Employees are aware that they will face salary cuts and layoffs, which are announced by many media, and one of the proposals for improving the situation was to increase salaries due to additional work in special conditions and during the pandemic.
Both owners and editors of online media in Montenegro have a similar view of the consequences for the survival of the media. As the main indicators of that negative impact, managers cited the uncertain economic situation and the decline in employee productivity.
The surveyed media have a different number of employees, ranging from one to 29. Of that number, the largest part, according to the respondents, are journalists. All surveyed employers provided employees with work from home, but 88% of them also provided clear guidelines for that work. Interestingly, 12% of respondents “admitted” that they did not give employees guidelines and instructions for working from home.
As the biggest problems in the work of the media, managers state that it was much harder to reach the interlocutor, that there was a “loss of interest in the job”, the habit of going to tasks, but also that there was a decrease in the number of published information, available interlocutors, fewer “living stories” and interlocutors. Some of the managers thought that it was negative that employees used the right to be absent if they had children under the age of 11. Rare are those who pointed to higher productivity and interest of employees, which led to fatigue of journalists and other employees.
Regardless of the size, popularity and number of employees, their owners are almost unanimous in their opinion that state aid during the pandemic was not enough.
As some of the measures that would help them in their work, they suggest greater financial assistance, exemption from tax obligations, expansion of the state aid package, formation of a stable fund for financial assistance to the media, more opportunities for financing media projects.
The surveyed managers believe that it is necessary to act on two “fronts” towards the state and the advertisers.
When it comes to state aid, ideas are different. Thus, in addition to financial issuances “which must be larger than the first aid package”, managers would also ask the state for subsidies for employees’ salaries, as well as disinfectants.
If the pandemic continues, the surveyed managers believe that there could be job losses, reduced wages or even the shutdown of the media. Namely, about 60% of the surveyed media representatives said that there could be layoffs and a reduction in salaries, 23.5% of respondents said that such scenarios would not develop, while slightly less than 17% of respondents are still unsure how the situation will develop.
The research involved 22 employed journalists and 17 editors and owners in online media.