Julia Amberger
"Increased focus on social facets"

Julia Amberger
© Julia Amberger

Social aspects and impact of Covid-19, especially on the poor, are missing from mainstream media.

By Chaitanya Marpakwar

Having reported from Africa and Europe, journalist Julia Amberger talks about how reporting on Covid-19 coverage has been different from the two continents. Amberger says that while data-driven journalism and medical reporting on Covid-19 has been good, the social element and impact of Covid-19 were missing from the media. Amberger says more focus should be given by journalists to cover social aspects of Covid-19 that will have a much larger and longer impact on our society.

Excerpts from the interview

What kind of impact did the Covid-19 pandemic have on your work as a journalist?
I’ve been in Berlin since January 2020, just before the pandemic broke out. I could only travel within Europe and couldn’t travel to Africa, where I had planned stories in 2020. The pandemic had a drastic impact on my work. I was to travel to Africa, Tanzania. I had a couple of really big assignments for a magazine and a book. For that, I was to go to the Central African Republic. So I had a lot less to do. I used this period to focus on my long-term strategy. On where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do. I brought together my ideas and created a long term project.
Did you think that some key aspects were missing from the media’s coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic?
As a journalist who writes features and long-form articles, I think the social aspect of the pandemic is missing from the media. Even in African countries, data was available and there was good reporting using data. But I missed the social aspects of reporting. For instance, there is an outbreak in the refugee camps in Lesbos in Greece where people are reporting about the number of refugees who are infected. But I want to report about how it is affecting the refugees in these camps and the people who live on this island. So this aspect, the human aspect is important. Even in Africa, in the beginning, Asians were pushed to the side and many were sent back. They were seen as carrying something bad. So the social side and the stigma that comes with this virus is something that was missing.
What elements of journalism do you think have become more important now?
Investigative networks have become more important now. I think collaborations are important. I can only report from Africa because of the journalists’ network and the personal contacts I have. I know the people whom I can trust, and we exchange information. So trust for collaboration is important. Collaboration has to be real, it has to be a partnership and not just limited to hiring fixers.
How have you adapted to technology in the pandemic?
I started to work for French TV. As French correspondents went back and I spoke French, I started doing stories about Coronavirus in the schools in Germany for French TV. I think technology in journalism is going to stay. It is an important skill to have to survive in the future.
What about trust in the media? Do you believe that many still don’t trust the media?
Yes, many people still don’t trust the media. Take for instance Germany. The people called the media ‘Lying press’ (Lügenpresse). Private blogs were being read, and people preferred to go to the alternative media. So there is definitely a mistrust. But I think the traditional political parties got an upgrade. People thought they were experienced so would do what was required. So, there was one part of the audience that trusted the government, and the other was in total denial.
How can trust in the media be improved then?
To improve trust, more social and human interest stories need to be told. The social aspect is very important. Sometimes stories need to be done quickly, especially for TV. For that, you need to know who is playing what role, who is saying what. But I think we should open up and look at what is happening in reality instead of already deciding what the story is going to be. Journalists need to also go further to promote their stories, not just write for publications, but go to YouTube and other media. The stories behind the stories need to be told. You must tell the audience that if you spent two, three weeks on a story, what happened. It is more than just making some phone calls.
Can there really be neutrality in journalism?
We should accept that no one can be neutral. Journalists also carry their own personal baggage with them. We need to accept this and acknowledge this. Neutrality doesn’t exist. Look at me, I was born in Bavaria, I am a woman, I was brought up in a Catholic way of life. So I have my own worldview. We have to be more conscious about our own cultural baggage.