Running a newsroom and reporting during a pandemic is no easy task – as these personal stories from one of Moldova’s top investigative media outlets illustrate. From Ziarul de Garda.

When a calamity comes, no one asks the journalists how they feel. People simply wait for journalists to inform them. And the journalists do it, because this is what they have learned to do and have promised to do. Journalism school did not teach us about working during a pandemic: The following are staff accounts of how we have coped with it. The biggest challenge has been access to information.

Evading Accountability

Victor Mosneag, deputy editor in chief

At first, even the thought of working from home was a challenge. I can concentrate and work efficiently, at maximum speed, only in an environment to which I’m already accustomed, and at a familiar computer. It took me a week to get used to it, and then other challenges came. Officials were answering only mobile phones and only questions that were convenient to them, or they weren’t answering at all. There also are officials who avoid talking to you on the grounds that the country needs positive information now, not startling disclosures. The fight with COVID-19 is the perfect excuse for them to avoid answering for their actions.

Sources: Waiting for Ministry Approval

Marina Ciobanu, investigative reporter

Even before the COVID-19 crisis began, the state authorities didn’t show transparency in their activity. During the quarantine, their constant attempts to hide information of public interest became even more obvious. For example, since 7 April I have been waiting for the Ministry of Health to answer questions about equipment, tests, and other necessary things. The press service keeps telling me that their superiors have not yet approved an answer. Previously, the Centralized Public Procurement Center in Health provided some public information regarding some procurements. Now they have restricted their communication, telling us to contact the Ministry of Health for data. And the heads of some medical institutions refuse to share information about COVID-19, saying they don’t have ministry approval to talk to ZdG (Ziarul de Garda).

Lying To My Mother

Marina Gorbatovschi, ZdG reporter

The quarantine taught me to lie without blinking an eye. I learned to tell lies to my mother. Before each of my reporting outings, I had a discussion with my mother. I had to pretend I was going shopping, or that I forgot something at the newsroom, and I needed it urgently. I had to lie that I was going to read or to sleep, so I would not be found online. Everything worked fine, until the material for which I had to escape from the house was published. My mother’s first reaction was silence, then resistance. In the end, she admitted that she herself couldn’t be so brave.

The most difficult thing was to get information about the number of ventilators. Some hospital officials responded evasively; others offered answers only after I begged for days; some accused me of spreading panic. This determined me to insist and find out the truth. Every citizen has the right to know the truth, because the equipment is bought and maintained with public money.

Finding Solutions To a Long List of Problems

Alina Radu, executive director

The quarantine was an equation of increasing difficulty. Whenever we managed to solve one problem, a more difficult task appeared. Since I’m responsible for the efficient running of the newsroom, I’ve had to ask myself dozens of questions about how reporters and all remote employees will work. Does each of them have a laptop or computer at home? Does everyone have a safe working area? Does everyone have internet access? Those responsible for videos – do they have enough computer memory to edit? And if not, how to solve all these problems? Then, I had to think about the reporters who had to work in the field. Where do we get gloves, masks, and disinfectants? Where do we get the money to pay for all of this?

Then the emergency calls from citizens began: patients, doctors, officials, travelers, young people, the elderly – hundreds of questions and requests. Who should answer them all, and when and how to write about each and every one? Then I found out that some colleagues were coughing, and others had a fever and some had a sore throat. The final straw was to find out accidentally that President Igor Dodon sued us.

We resolved all these problems gradually: disinfectants, masks, gloves, equipment, access to the net, money, my colleagues’ fever and cough. We also found a lawyer to deal with the trial with Dodon. We still have a problem. Although we have responded to hundreds of readers’ requests, many remain unanswered. But the good news is that during the quarantine we have had more news and texts on the website as well as more readers – more than in the entire history of ZdG of almost 16 years!

Delivering the News From the Kitchen

Anatolie Esanu, investigative reporter

Initially, I didn’t realize the strictness of this pandemic and thought we’d stay locked in our houses for two weeks at most. I soon realized that I would have to improvise my own newsroom at home. A small one, with only one employee. It is not easy though. Normally, a journalist doesn’t work only in front of the computer. Much of the journalist’s activity is about working in the field. We have had to abandon several topics of public interest that required in-person reporting. Other topics, which I had been working on for a long time, became irrelevant or outdated. Nevertheless, we don’t give up. Despite the fact that state institutions don’t answer our phone calls, we’ll continue to deliver for our readers the best news and investigations – from the kitchen, bedroom, or living room.

Gap Between Authorities and the Public

Aneta Grosu, editor in chief

I have been in journalism for many years. But this is the first time that for weeks we’re creating ZdG remotely, each employee being isolated in his/her house. It’s a new experience, and I’m glad I got to live it. I am worried about the sad statistics, which I still believe are not objective. Every Wednesday night, when the latest newspaper is sent to the printing house, I think of all my ZdG colleagues, as well as of the readers we work for, with admiration, respect, and gratitude. In these endless weeks, I have grown aware that there is a gap between the interests of the authorities and the citizens’ needs that is difficult to overcome. These pandemic days may teach us that it is our right to ask the authorities to solve problems, no matter how insignificant they may seem. And if the authorities continue to neglect them, we can decide whether we give them a vote of confidence or not.

Limited Access To Information

Diana Gatcan, news reporter

The quarantine makes people feel bored but also limits our access to information. I kept calling public institutions to ask for answers, but I soon realized that no one was going to answer. When I did manage to reach someone, the answer was the same: “No one is available to talk to you. Send a request for information by email.” It has become a challenge to get information even about what is happening in the medical system. They keep saying, “I’m busy,” or “Don’t you understand that I have something more important to do?” We hope that after the pandemic, civil servants will be more willing to provide information.

Overcoming Frustration

Cristina Dulea, news reporter

After this period, I think I could become a war journalist. Mask, gloves, and self-isolation would not be an issue. I have acquired endurance and determination. I had felt frustrated at not being able to get answers to the questions that ordinary people, including my mother, ask daily. And I was about to give up. But I learned to write about every phone call that the authorities didn’t answer. In times of pandemic or war, there are psychological or physical plagues, and we overcome barriers, overcome frustration, and remain on guard to turn the effects of the new coronavirus into factual information.

Editing With My Daughter in My Arms

Andrei Muntean, video editor

The quarantine has been a big challenge for me. It has been difficult to sit in front of the computer for hours and edit reports about corruption, when Ilinca, our 2 1/2-year-old daughter, sees I am at home and wants my attention. I love my job, I want to do my best, but I also love my child. In these almost two months of #stayathome, I have learned to produce content about corruption with Ilinca in my arms.

Hoping for Post-Quarantine Lessons

Aliona Ciurca, ZdG reporter

The quarantine turned many plans upside down. I was working on some topics. I had lists of people to talk to, and suddenly that all faded into the background. However, adapting to quarantined work was not the hardest task during this period, as I discovered many good people. The hardest thing for me was to (re)discover how powerless I am and to somehow learn to accept it. I hope to get out of quarantine with some lessons learned on either side of the barricades.

Isolated But Not Alone

Petru Grozavu, political editor

Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 has driven us crazy. In a way, we are in conditions of undeclared war. The virus has restricted our rights and actions. It has isolated us from the world. Nevertheless, there is still communication with the world. More difficult than it was, but it exists, thanks to the internet. COVID-19 could not take our job or silence us. Did it take us hostage? It depends on how each of us can resist it. There are still issues of freedom of speech, opinion, expression, and freedom of personal life and other societal problems. We still don’t have an answer to the question: When will this COVID-19 end?

Trying To Help Everyone

Diana Marian, public relations

The phone rings incessantly, amid the pots in the kitchen, the online lessons, and the homework of our second-grade pupil. Readers tell us about their problems. They’re worried about the situation of COVID-19 in Moldova. Elderly people who couldn’t afford a subscription to ZdG used to buy the newspaper at the newsstand. They say that they miss ZdG. We try to listen patiently and to help everyone.

Missing the Noise of the Newsroom

Cristina Carmanu, editor, English-language edition

I was working from home before the quarantine began. There was no big difference; somehow, I was already prepared. However, I miss the busy Thursday meetings, as well as the days when I was coming into the newsroom. I miss the noise and the liveliness. I think this is the most difficult thing in quarantine.

Importance of Team Cohesion

Vitalie Munteanu, design and layout

Home isolation has stirred my creativity. Remote communication with colleagues hasn’t detracted from our common goal of producing a newspaper that meets readers’ expectations. Even though I have hardly left the house, I have obtained the most important information from colleagues who write for ZdG. In these weeks, I have learned that it’s not distances that matter, but rather team cohesion.

Relying on Phones

Daniela Calmis, investigative reporter

As a reporter, I found it most difficult to adjust to a new reality during the quarantine. I have had to accept that I can no longer enjoy the freedom I had in the past; communication and obtaining information have become almost entirely virtual. I have had to rely only on the phone to receive information. And when nobody answers the phone I can do nothing. At the same time, it has been difficult to learn to collaborate remotely both with the people who provided information and with my colleagues. And to make sure we understand one another correctly.

Adapting To a Different Future

Daniela Bechet, development consultant

Working from home involves a lot of written communication and more communication blunders (punctuation counts!). Working from home also removes barriers between family life and work. Well-trained teams are more resilient to organizing work remotely. We have a greater appreciation for efficiency, speed, creativity. The most difficult aspect of quarantine is the waiting and the uncertainty. Will things ever return to normal, the way they were before February, or will we continue quarantine practices long after we overcome the state of emergency?

Taking Reporters’ Requests Personally

Corina Seremet, ZdG reporter

It has been quite difficult for me to deal with many readers’ questions. Our articles do provide some answers, but many questions remain unanswered. People expect solutions from us and write to us when they don’t trust the authorities or doubt the legality of their acts. Officials often take journalists’ requests personally, and they are incensed when we ask for information that should be public. But the press remains the link; it can ask officials questions directly when people don’t have the courage to do it.

Two Answers To the Same Question

Nicoleta Braghis, news reporter

The authorities provide little and sometimes vague information. However, as a journalist I have to clearly explain the situation to the reader. I’ve posed the same question twice to the same institution and received two completely different answers. Other state institutions asked me to send the questions in writing, but they never answered. While trying to speak with a specialist I was told that I had to contact the press service first. Subsequently, an article that could be published within three hours appeared only the next day.

The Right Career

Alina Frunza, news reporter

In isolation, I realized that I chose the right job. I miss my daily routine – 15 minutes’ walk to the office while enjoying my coffee, and then a day full of good people, news, and events. The first week was the easiest. I was happy to be at home with my parents. But the isolation became torture by the seventh week. I’m a person who prefers to spend time out of the house. And as a reporter, I can’t get used to #stayathome. This is the most difficult thing for me in quarantine.

Helper in the House

Aliona Cenusa, finance manager

The isolation period has presented some fundamental challenges for me. First, I had to adapt all processes for exclusively online activity. An electronic marathon followed, to supply employees with disinfectants and protective equipment. Every day I identified web pages that promised masks and gloves, but when I called I heard, “We’re sorry; we don’t have anything at the moment.”

Another challenge was the timely submission of fiscal and statistical reports. The slower speed of the internet made signing and transmission take longer. All this work was done while communicating with my 3-year-old son, who wanted to process documents with his mother and talk on the phone with companies or participate in online meetings.

Despite all these issues, all financial obligations were met. Salaries paid. Taxes and fees transferred to the state. Reports submitted. Raw materials for editing and printing ZdG procured. And contractual obligations honored.

More Interest in News

Cristian Jardan, social media manager

I have often said that working from home is harder than working from the office. You no longer know when your day off is. And when you have to write or do something important you hear in your ear, “Dad, I’m hungry, I want to pee, you don’t pay any attention to us, look what we did, let’s play. …” It goes on like this every day.

It is true that people’s interest in the news has increased a lot. All indicators have increased a lot. The traffic on the site has increased, especially on social media networks. In April, we completed two video reports that have over 3 million views combined.

The Telegram channel, the Facebook page, and the Instagram account have grown exponentially. But it’s very sad that the authorities, especially the heads of the medical system, have decided that ZdG is their opponent, and they don’t answer questions. They do it only through their press services, and most of the time they respond with irritation and reproach. It saddens me that anonymous letters received from doctors, employees of the system, confirm irregularities and reveal grave problems in the system.

More Screen Time, Less Sleep

Olga Bulat, editor, Russian-language edition

At first, the idea of ‹ ‹working from home wasn’t really a challenge. I used to do it every night and on weekends. Back then, when your computer stopped working the day you had to print the newspaper, all you had to do was run to the newsroom. I would get there in about 60 minutes at a brisk pace. Since I have been working from home, I sleep less and spend more time in front of the computer. Time previously spent going to and from work is now work time. … I listen to officials’ contradictory statements and think we should put them in a one-year quarantine for every disastrous decision that subsequently affects the lives of citizens.

Briefings We Can Only Observe

Diana Severin, news reporter

One of the most difficult things we face every day is the lack of information from the authorities. We are forced to watch as mere observers the briefings organized by the Moldovan authorities. We have no right to ask questions or for clarification. We then search for answers by calling doctors, ministry staff, or other sources who, due to lack of time, can’t always give us answers. As journalists, we need professional and fair communication with the authorities. This is an essential condition to obtaining and presenting quality information.

Not Bad for Introverts

Katerina Alexandr, photojournalist

The quarantine ruined some of my plans for what to work on. I had to lock a list of topics in a drawer. Instead, I have done other things that, in my opinion, have been well-received by the public. I can’t say that I have run into difficulties during this period. On the contrary, I think my introverted nature has felt good in this isolation. I have moved my office to my home and realized that the quiet helps me focus better. I have photographed and filmed deserted streets and people wearing masks, ambulances and doctors at hospital gates. And from the few opportunities to work outside the city, I realize that happiness is in small things, which we often don’t take time to notice.

Ziarul de Garda was launched in 2004 as an investigative reporting newspaper. Based in the capital Chisinau, ZdG now publishes on all media platforms (a print newspaper, websites, TV and radio programs, social networks) in two languages — Romanian and Russian. Transitions has condensed and edited the original version to conform to our style. Courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange.