The COVID-19 outbreak created new jobs while scaling back or adding risks to existing ones. Despite challenges, professionals attempt to maintain routines to do their jobs, albeit with some necessary alterations. In the meantime, people working in health care and cleaning services have taken on a new set of tasks, such as tracing contacts of COVID-19 patients and disinfecting public spaces.
As more people opt to stay home or are forced to amid curfews to curb the number of cases, reporters remain outside, looking for stories to cover and documenting life amid the outbreak. Their jobs are easier in small towns and cities, but in Istanbul, the country's most populated city and a major news hub, the challenge is greater. Masks remain their only protection while social distancing is difficult to maintain due to the nature of their jobs. Whether covering a murder, a fire, a car accident, or any other incident, they have to be one step ahead of each other, dodging the traffic of humans and cars at the same time.
Media outlets usually divide the city of more than 15 million people into three regions and assign several reporters to cover stories. They rarely run out of breaking, developing, or interesting stories, whether fires or in recent months, the impact of the pandemic on the population. At night or on the weekends, while millions are confined to home due to curfews in the city, reporters are on the streets to show the country how the curfews are implemented and whether anyone violates them.
Advancements in technology have reshaped the profession and minimized the need to return to offices to deliver videotapes of stories they covered or to write them. But reporters still have to get as close as possible to any subjects they cover, raising the risk of infection.
The pandemic has also led to a change in the types of stories the media workers cover. Streets are less crowded now thanks to curfews and the closure of businesses. This has caused a drop in crime stories and instead, news now focuses on features about those fighting the pandemic, from doctors to nurses to teams of health care workers, going door to door to trace COVID-19 patients. Another main source of news is the public response to the pandemic and restrictions stemming from it.
Barış Sözal, an Istanbul reporter, who has worked for the Sabah newspaper for the past 17 years, said they witnessed a change in the profession with the pandemic. "Challenges are here but we try to overcome them," he told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Jan. 10, which is observed as Working Journalists' Day in Turkey.
"We have seen a change in shifts. Some places switched to shorter shifts. We have seen a drop in our workload due to the pandemic," he said.
Sözal said he tries to be as careful as he can due to the pandemic. His wife tested positive, but measures he has taken have protected him from the virus so far. "We are worried because we have families and need to be careful for them as well. I am careful about social distancing and always wear a mask," he said.
But avoiding crowds is a tough task. "Sometimes, we find up to 20 people gathered at the scene of an incident. You have to be among them. You have to dive into crowds convened to help the injured in an accident, in a fire, but a possible infection is always in your mind during those times," he said.
Sözal and others working in "Region A" of media outlets in the Topkapı district of the city's European side convene at a press center to deliver news to their companies, to exchange ideas, to work on other tasks not involving coverage, as well as to socialize. "We continue gathering here but there are not as many reporters as before because of the pandemic. I miss the days where we would come here in the early hours of the morning and have breakfast together," Sözal said.
Caner Sönmez, a reporter for Ihlas News Agency (IHA), says reporting never ends, whatever happens. "No newspaper stops printing or TVs stop broadcasting, even in such times. People need to know what happens in the country. The coronavirus outbreak only changed our coverage. We don't have many crime stories to cover. Even brawls almost ceased to exist. Maybe this has something to do with social distancing," he joked. "Primary news items for us are coronavirus measures and whether people are complying with them."
Sönmez starts the day by wearing a new mask and grabbing his hand sanitizer along with his camera, microphone and other materials. "We try not to go into crowded, enclosed spaces, and my agency warns us to avoid them as much as possible. But we are making news stories and want to cover everything. For a cameraperson, you have to be close to the crowd to get the best shot. For a reporter, it is best to learn as many details as possible and it is only possible by asking questions to people. We sometimes find ourselves so captivated in covering a story properly, we occasionally violate social distancing rules," Sönmez said.
"I hold back myself when I notice that I am getting too close to people. But it is inevitable. Sometimes, we cover stories at the COVID-19 units of hospitals, but we protect ourselves as much as possible. I live with my parents and I have to be careful with them. When I return home, I avoid contact with them. We eat and sit in separate rooms," said Sönmez, whose father has already been infected with the virus.
Aydemir Kadıoğlu is a young reporter for Hürriyet newspaper and said his first days at the newspaper coincided with the start of the pandemic. "I have so many memories now about last year. Many things changed in the country. For me, the most significant change was empty streets and people wearing masks. I have almost no photos without a masked person now. They are everywhere and we are getting used to it," Kadıoğlu said.
For Kadıoğlu, one upside of working during the pandemic is "empty streets." Like his colleagues, he said he has to mingle with crowds though he noticed that people are more careful now than ever to maintain a distance. "They are scared. You can see a curious group of onlookers at each scene, for instance, at a fire, but you see people are more careful not to come closer to each other," he said.
"This is a difficult job and some reporters died of the coronavirus. You don't know what will happen to you, whether you will be infected. I wear two masks and am anxious not to get infected," he said.
Fatih Çağlar Demirbaş, a crime reporter for AA, said their routine is overshadowed by "an invisible enemy."
"Our job is not as difficult as health care workers or police officers monitoring the curfew, but we work in a field that requires a high level of communication with people. You have to interview people, you have to ask questions, sometimes up to 20 or more people, to report a story. We wear masks but people we have to interview do not wear them sometimes. We are at risk of infection," he said.
People in white
For some street cleaners, the pandemic created a whole new line of duty. Just like doctors and nurses at the hospitals, they dress in head-to-toe white protective suits and do daily chores unseen before the pandemic, that is, disinfecting streets and any enclosed spaces that have the potential of being a COVID-19 hot spot.
They are ubiquitous and work in shifts, usually around the clock, to keep every surface free of the highly contagious virus. Whether at schools, mosques, or remote villages, these "people in white" are a common sight all across the country. Formed from cleaners working at the service of provincial governorates or municipalities, these teams give a sense of relief for people scared of stepping outside due to the infection risk.
In the northwestern province of Edirne, where the public can call on the "white jumpsuits," the cleaners go wherever disinfection is needed, from grocery stores to apartment buildings and shopping centers. Since April, they have disinfected nearly 60,000 locations. Along with ground staff, cleaning teams rely on drones spraying disinfectants in some areas.
Emre Boduroğlu, who leads a crew of cleaners, gathers his team every morning and assigns each team member to a spot in need of disinfection. "We concentrate our work on places more frequented by people, usually in central Edirne," he told AA. They occasionally visit villages, disinfecting mosques and other areas where people gather. "We are grateful to be able to help health care workers, to reduce their burden of patients. Disinfection is very important in the fight against the pandemic," he said.
Ahmet Turan Ateş, who coordinates the crews working in Edirne, says every place with a reported virus case is thoroughly disinfected. "We have backpack tanks, tanks attached to tractors and other means to deliver disinfectants, and our crews work for seven days. In Edirne and its districts, 338 personnel work solely on disinfection tasks. We also delivered 37,100 small tanks to businesses and public agencies to be used for disinfection needs. Our crews disinfect more than 7,000 buildings every day," he said.
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