"This year has shown how vital journalism is" says NCTJ patron Alex Crawford in charity's annual report

Alex Crawford, special correspondent for Sky News and patron of the NCTJ, has urged journalists to look at the positives that have come out of the past year.

Writing in the NCTJ's 2019-20 annual report, Alex said: "This has been a truly challenging time wherever you are in the world, and wherever you are in your career. But don’t give into dwelling on these negatives.

"For a start, this year has shown how vital journalism is. If you’re an aspiring journalist or an old-school hack who thought they’d seen pretty much all, surely take some comfort from this?"

She added: "Coronavirus has strained us but journalists have been the backbone of truth and refused to be broken by it."

The NCTJ's annual report details the impact that charity has had during 2019-20, and covers areas including accreditation, qualifications, diversity, careers and communications, as well as a financial review of the year.

Read Alex Crawford's full piece below:
 

Before you write off 2020, please think again. It’s been tough. No question. It’s been far too tragic. Too many of us have lost friends, close colleagues and much-loved relatives. Nothing can take away from that and I wouldn’t try to.

We’ve all felt desperately lonely at times, terribly stressed and far too often depressed. We’ve witnessed and reported on some of the saddest, most difficult, in some ways most heart-rending times of our lives. We’ve been frightened about the impact on our own families.

This has been a truly challenging time wherever you are in the world, and wherever you are in your career. But don’t give into dwelling on these negatives. They can overwhelm. They WILL overwhelm if you let them. Far better to focus on the positives this virus has brought with it. And honestly, I believe there are many.

For a start, this year has shown how vital journalism is. If you’re an aspiring journalist or an old-school hack who thought they’d seen pretty much all, surely take some comfort from this?

It is journalists who have exposed the lack of Government preparation for a global pandemic. They’ve crunched numbers and data and scrutinised science and offered alternatives to the official version of the virus trajectory. They’ve identified and given names and voices to the pandemic victims and their relatives. They’ve pinpointed those most at risk and sounded multiple alarms at the disproportionate numbers of people of colour struck down; at the horrifyingly high level of deaths amongst our old folk in care homes; at the lack of PPE for health care workers; at the woeful effectiveness of the track and trace system.

They’ve asked tough questions – and when they’ve not been allowed to ask those tough questions directly to those in authority, they’ve found ways around this to make their point. And boy, those points have been made.

Reporters have thrown themselves into the frontline of the virus, from Wuhan to Italy to France, to UK, to Brazil, donning hazmat suits and visors and stepping into the pandemic petri dish to get to the truth and deliver it honestly. They’ve found ways round border controls; lockdowns; the evacuation of their own offices; their personal health fears and worries about their family’s health in order to keep the news on the air and in print, regionally, nationally and globally.

Editors have had to constantly think about how to keep their staff healthy and fit – both physically and mentally. They’ve had to work out how to move their journalist teams around the world when half of the planet is closed or diseased.

The virus has made it easier to shut down and lock-out journalists but they’ve refused to be silenced. OR distracted. Some of Britain’s best journalism has come from its regional reporters and bureaux. The Yorkshire Post is just one which has had a stonking year with strong, uncompromising coverage of the virus and its handling. Many in the regions have utilised local contacts to forge the way forward, lead the charge and call those in charge to account. And this is just COVID-19.

The eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd - and the protests and demonstrations his death sparked around the world has finally led to changes and not before time, and some of them have been in our newsrooms. They should have been made a long time ago and be in no doubt, there’s still a considerable way to go but finally there appears to be real momentum and real action to ensure our newsrooms reflect the diverse world we live in.

The virus also seems to have made journalists braver in calling out racism, lies and extremism. Sure, there’s a realisation that the industry is under attack and coronavirus has only magnified and exacerbated those attacks but it’s woken up areas of journalism which had fallen into a Sleeping Beauty-style trance.

By the end of Donald Trump’s reign, channels were collectively cutting away from his rambling news conferences, filled with unverified claims and lurid lies. Journalists were finally being proactive in tackling his ‘alternative facts’ by doing live fact-checking or simply calling him and others out on their claims. It’s been a long time coming but finally the truth train has arrived and it’s largely being driven by journalists. The effects of four years of dripping venom against the media though will be a curse that journalists will be fighting for decades.

Coronavirus has strained us but journalists have been the backbone of truth and refused to be broken by it.

Journalism is still under threat, there’s no doubt. That we can all agree on. It’s not COVID-19 we should be fearing but the fake news pandemic which has permeated every part of society across the world. It gained a grip during the Trump era, evolved, grew and became frighteningly powerful. It’s truly shocking how continual lies – about everything but let’s take the virus for starters (the efficacy of masks; the seriousness of it; the malicious intent of media houses in stoking fear about it) have been believed and continue to be believed by millions, by whole countries. Serious distrust in the global media damages us all and threatens everyone’s liberties.

Coronavirus may well have brought us together in more ways than it’s divided us. It’s encouraged collaboration (of sorts) in our own industry in fighting untruths and misinformation from all quarters. It SHOULD do. It MUST do. We need to work together as journalists and as an industry to fight the fake news pandemic which will be here long after the coronavirus is conquered.

Like the incredible scientific collaboration and teamwork that has developed a vaccine in record time for the world, we need to pool resources, brain cells and collective ingenuity, take lessons from the lab technicians and come up with an antidote to save our profession. Together we are stronger.