Doing good things for others, no matter how small, matters.
It has now been eight months since the Indonesian government announced its very first case of COVID-19. Since then, the number of cases has kept on increasing and people have been starting to feel the impact of this pandemic. Not only does it put our health at risk, the pandemic has also left us uncertain about the future of our employment. Amongst those whose employment were hanging in the balance, are our journalist friends, some of whom have already lost their jobs, endured pay cuts, or experienced paycheck delays.
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia has confirmed that journalists were among the most vulnerable workers during the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, we have begun to hear that some media companies had started to offer their staff the choice to either take early retirement or be laid off as a part of efficiency moves in light of the COVID-19 crisis. According to reports received by AJI Indonesia, the impact not only affected journalists in Jakarta but also those across the rest of the country.
Besides experiencing pay cuts and job losses, journalists are constantly facing the risk of contracting the virus. From March to September alone, AJI Indonesia found at least 242 journalists who had tested positive for COVID-19. Looking at the current situation, it was highly likely that number has soared further. The situation has become of great concern to AJI Indonesia as these journalists should have been provided with adequate protection from their workplace, especially when they were on duty to cover stories.
As a communications consultancy, our job relies heavily on the support of our media friends. We thus became concerned upon hearing news that some media outlets were cutting wages and putting people on furlough citing COVID-19 as the main reason for the cost cutting. That prompted our intensive communication with AJI Indonesia back in May 2020, to discuss how we could help these affected journalists. Both Maverick Indonesia and AJI Indonesia agreed then to collaborate and launch a pro-bono project called The Journalist Fellowship Program, in mid-September to October 2020.
The program offered five weeks of capacity building exercises for a select number of journalists with online sharing sessions and training related to journalism and other fields. Participants were expected to produce a series of in-depth writing pieces with the help from senior journalists as mentors. At the end of the program, these journalists were also provide with a stipend of IDR 4.5 million.
The program received a positive response with AQUA joining in as the main sponsor, Jenius as co-sponsor, and the participation from Nutrifood.
Yes, we hoped the program would draw a number of participants, but what we did not expect was to receive 61 applications from various cities in Indonesia. Even AJI Indonesia admitted that this was one of the highest level of participation they have seen for a fellowship so far. The list of applicants were later streamlined to just 15 names, journalists who came from cities such Gorontalo, Palembang, Pontianak, Yogyakarta, Semarang, and more.
The selection was based on a set of criteria, including their track record and how severely impacted by the pandemic they were. As part of their eligibility, the applicants were required to submit proposed research topics which they would turn into an in-depth article at the end of the fellowship program.
Capacity building aside, it was our biggest hope that this program could boost their spirit to keep on writing and reporting on subjects that were impactful to society. The five-week program, provided participants with a series of online training and sharing sessions that covered topics ranging from news writing skills to entrepreneurship. All of these was aimed at enhancing their skills while keeping them motivated to continue look for opportunities that could help them sustain their daily life.
Hafidz Trijatnika, a fellow of The Journalist Fellowship Program from Palembang, said that the program has really helped him. “Furthermore, the capacity building sessions also helped me gain new insights, allowed me to share experiences, and most importantly to discuss ideas that resulted into a writing piece with the help of extraordinary mentors,” said Hafidz.
The positive response received by this fellowship program has encouraged Maverick Indonesia to continue to collaborate with AJI Indonesia to hold a second round of The Journalist Fellowship Program- Batch 2. The registration period has since closed and the program itself will commence on November 11 and end on December 11, 2020.
This whole crisis has made us reflect how strongly it had impacted the Indonesian journalism industry and the work of journalists, right at the time when we need them to produce balanced and transparent news pieces about the pandemic to combat misinformation, provide reliable public health updates, and also offer entertainment to help people get through this situation.
We believe that when we help others, not only would it give us a sense of purpose but it would also make us happier because we are building connections with others, create stronger relationships, and also clearly do our part in helping solve a problem.