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I’ve always been taught that face-to-face interactions are to be preferred over remote ones through technology.

Throughout my days as a communication student, then a reporter and finally a public relations consultant I practiced and came to believe that physical presence helps us to establish better professional relationships and therefore makes us more effective at work.

Then COVID-19 came along and disrupted everything.

It is now risky for all of us – clients, public relations professionals and journalists – to leave our homes, travel by public transport and gather at events and press conferences.

MavBelahDuren 2020 – Maverick’s Annual Gathering Event with Our Journalist Friends

This point was driven home when the Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Ministry invited dozens of journalists for a press conference during a handing over ceremony of medical equipment at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Cengkareng, on March 27. It appalled the public and the netizens of Indonesia who saw the cramped press conference as hothouse for COVID-19 infections.

As a member of Maverick’s media outreach team it is our job to figure this out how journalists are changing their news gathering habits and techniques because of COVID-19, so we reached out to our media friends in the prominent media houses like Kompas, Bisnis Indonesia, and The Jakarta Post to see how they are adjusting to the new normal.

They told us that they’ve adopted work-from-home for the journalists since mid-March, following a recommendation from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) to minimize contact between journalists and others to prevent infections.

As a result, these media houses will now only send journalists to cover only highly important news events, breaking news and developing real-time story from society.

But whereas the printed media do not need to be physically present in news events because they can always get the information through texting or phone calls, the TV stations, however, need to be on site to capture video footage for their reports, so they put their journalists on shift work while the rest enjoy a mandatory day off.

So when the journalists cannot go to events, where do they get the news? Well, thanks to technology, the news now comes to them at home via video conferencing platforms like Zoom, WebEx and Skype.

 Xiaomi Indonesia’s First Virtual Press Conference with Tech Journalists

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati was ahead of the curve among ministers last month when she held one of the Government’s first virtual press conferences. Journalists we spoke to who covered her press conference actually praised the efficiency of her delivery of information to them via technology.

The private sector has also been quick to adapt to their new normal in news gathering. Last week, for instance, Maverick assisted Xiaomi Indonesia to launch a couple of their products by streaming it on YouTube, followed by a question and answer session with journalists via Zoom.

We found that almost all the A-list journalists and KOLs we invited to the “event” participated in the YouTube launch and the Zoom Q&A. Asked later they said they were happy with the event as they managed to get useful information about the products, were able to ask questions from the spokesperson, Xiaomi’s Indonesia’s CEO Alvin Tse, and did not have to spend time commuting to and from a news venue.

This made us reflect that perhaps COVID-19 has forced our hand to use a more efficient means to deliver information from businesses to journalists. It will never replace the types of relationships you can develop when meeting face-to-face, but such relationships can be built through different means.

It’s been said that if and when we get over the COVID-19 pandemic we will all be living in a new normal where we would be doing things that we had no compelling reason to do before, like work-from-home.

I think press conferences, press launches and other media events would settle into a new normal in the COVID-19 aftermath. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The only constant in our lives is change and the sooner we embrace this fact the faster we will be able to adapt.

Written by Damianus Andreas, Associate.

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