MUMBAI: As the coronavirus continues its relentless march, journalists who can't afford to miss any story are facing uphill task of constantly reporting on the pandemic which has triggered an unprecedented lockdown and upended lives of crores of people.
Worldwide, journalists are facing enormous pressure and hurdles in reporting on the biggest story ever and their counterparts in Maharashtra are no different with the state leading in COVID-19 cases in the country with more than 100 infections reported till now, media persons said.
Mumbai, along with the rest of the country, is under an unprecedented lockdown, imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus. The metropolis, which is known for its fast-paced life and is no stranger to natural calamities and man-made disasters, has virtually locked itself up.
Suburbantrains and buses, considered the lifeline of the financial capital -- which has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state - have come to a grinding halt, forcing people to work from home or remain on paid leave.
In the current scenario, journalists have the arduous task of communicating with officials and hunting for stories during the lockdown and curfew. "This is unlike a war or a riot, where mediapersons can movewith some amount of freedom. During the communal riots in Ahmedabad in 1968, the Army was called out and journalists got passes from them to move around in the affected areas. Public transport was never shut," veteran journalist Sidhartha Arya said.
He said that a curfew is the best deterrent to prevent people from coming out of their homes during troubled times. "During the Mumbai riots in 1992-93 and the bomb blasts that followed, only certain localities were under curfew and the public transport was not hit," Arya reminisced.
A journalist's job in the age of 24/7 news media is difficult, he said, adding the present scenario of pandemic is different from covering a war or riot. "In times like these, the only source ofinformation for a media person is theofficial control room, the concerned minister or the police," Arya explained.
However, technology and social media have certainly come to journalists' rescue at this time, when it is possible to garner information from WhatsApp news groups and sound bytes uploaded on Youtube and Facebook.
According to Narendra Kothekar, resident editor of Marathi newspaper 'Belgaum Tarun Bharat', print media companies have issued laptops to their staff who can edit news articles at from home and send them to their main offices, where the pages are designed.
Although newspaper printing has been suspended due to the lockdown, journalists are working on online editions to cater to their readers. Prakash Misquita, IT in-charge of PTI Mumbai, said a software to enable journalists to work remotely has been installed in laptops of sub-editors, while he has server access to all stories at home.
Recalling the pre-Internet days of journalism, Vidydhar Date, former journalist with 'The Times of India', said during the Railway strike of 1974 it was difficult to reach office or return home. He said that trucks, which transported newsprint, were often used to ferry employees during this time, remembering those tough days of news gathering.
"When former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated late night on May 21, 1991, reporters and editors, who had just reached home, headed back to the office to access the referencelibrary to collect material and photographs," Date said.
"We provided a lot of background material along with reactions from local and state leaders. And wrote from our own memory and experience," he added.
"Portable typewriters were rare in India. I first saw cricket correspondents from England using them in Nagpur in 1960s. It was a novelty to see them type as the match progressed. Even they then had to go to the central telegraph office to send their reports," he said.
Even Neena Gopal, a journalist with 'Gulf News', who witnessed Rajiv Gandhi'sassassination, had to go to the Central Telegraph Office in Chennai to file her report. "I envy today's journalists who can send reports instantly from their mobile phones," Date said.