COVID-19 has irrevocably changed the journalism profession, an industry that wasn’t exactly on steady ground before the outbreak. According to a new report from journalist database, media monitoring and coverage reporting platform Muck Rack, the pandemic has changed the type of news coverage reporters are writing and has left many taking on additional work in light of the ongoing layoffs and furloughs that have rocked the news publishing world.

The Muck Rack report, which surveyed journalists on everything from their pitching preferences to the challenges of reporting during the coronavirus outbreak, discovered that COVID-19 has affected 86 percent of journalists' work in some way or another and virtually all reporters surveyed (94 percent) said at least some of their reporting has pivoted to COVID-19 angles. More than a third (39 percent) said that most of their reporting has shifted to COVID-19 stories, and four percent said they now report exclusively on COVID-related developments.

More than half (65 percent) said they’re currently writing more stories about COVID-19 and/or health and wellness, and a third (33 percent) said they’re writing more stories about remote work and/or virtual communication. About a quarter (23 percent) said layoffs and/or furloughs at their publication have increased their workload, and 19 percent said they’ve been personally affected by a layoff, which has resulted in less writing work.

Muck Rack: Journalists were asked: in what ways has economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic affected their work?
Journalists were asked: in what ways has economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic affected their work?

Given everything, most of the journalists polled by the Muck Rack survey (58 percent) said they’re optimistic about their profession, compared to 42 percent who characterized their feelings as pessimistic. This optimism is on par with press sentiment last year (58 percent) and actually reveals a slight uptick from years prior (57 percent expressed optimism in 2019 and 55 percent expressed optimism in 2018).

The average journalist now works three or more beats, according to the survey, and a majority of journalists surveyed (42 percent) now write for online-only publications, while fewer than a third (30 percent) report primarily in print. Only 10 percent report for television, while eight percent work in radio, two percent report for a newsletter and one percent report for a podcast.

A majority (56 percent) of reporters said they’re just as likely to respond to PR pitches as they were a year ago, but admitted only a quarter (25 percent) of the stories they end up writing come from pitches. Instead, 84 percent said academic experts are the best sources for their reporting.

More than three-quarters (76 percent) said Twitter is the most valuable social network to them, although they’re far more likely to get their story ideas from online newspapers or magazines than Twitter (58 percent versus 16 percent, respectively). More than a third (34 percent) of journalists said they plan to cut back on their use of Facebook this year.

Muck Rack’s “The State of Journalism 2021” polled nearly 2,500 journalists between early January 11th and early February 2021.