How one reporter covers at-risk women disproportionately affected by COVID-19

Zosia Bielski, a senior writer for The Globe and Mail, shares her take on the industry right now, and what changes are happening as a result of the pandemic.

Zosia Bielski's workspace on June 16, 2020. 

Zosia Bielski covers gender, sexuality, social dynamics and contemporary culture in her role as a senior journalist for The Globe and Mail.

“I’m seeing positive change in terms of the stories really focusing on, you know, doing what journalism is meant to do, which is giving a voice to the voiceless,” she said on the effect that the pandemic has had on the journalism industry.

Her article about the increase risk women face when self-isolating was one of the first by a Canadian publication to warn of the negative effects being in quarantine could have on women who face domestic violence.

Read Bielski’s article here.

“When you have disaster, when you have crisis, when you have uncertainty and job loss and people together in one home, it’s really exacerbates the issues that were already there,” Bielski said in an interview with The Toronto Observer.

“It [quarantine] doesn’t create abuse, but it fuels the flames of whatever may have been happening in the home.”

News doesn’t stop. Neither does the practice of journalism, even amidst a pandemic. Bielski, who normally focus on activist issues, finds it is difficult to find sources who will share their stories of domestic abuse, and for good reason.

 “It was always difficult,” Bielski said. “It’s such a vulnerable cohort. And they’re so at risk that you definitely have to take great care.”

With lockdowns and other restrictions in place, women who face domestic abuse have lost places like work, school, community centres and even shopping malls which served as safe spaces for them before the pandemic. This makes contacting sources thatmuch more difficult.

When approaching the topic of domestic abuse, Bielski specified that she tries to speak to women who have had these experiences in the past, that now serve as activists.

“You still get that lived experience from the person, but they’re speaking to you from a place of advocacy and safety, where you’re not putting them at risk,” she said.

As most of the topics she normally covers fall under the scope of activism, Bielski is a strong believer in solution-based journalism as a way of aiding communities. She believes that there is, and should be, a way after the pandemic to circle back to this topic, check in, and report on found solutions, either individually or on a broader scale.

The risks a source takes by including themselves in a domestic abuse story might sometimes be life threatening. This introduces the concept of anonymity – but a newsroom agreeing to grant anonymity to a source is more difficult than it seems.

“We have very strict policies on that. Sometimes those policies open up a little bit and then they clamp down but generally speaking, unless someone’s livelihood is at risk, we don’t just grant anonymity,” said Bielski about her experience with anonymous sources in newsrooms.

But policies shift as general ideologies do, and the pandemic could inflict change on these policies similar to the impact of the #MeToo movement in Bielski’s opinion. “Ever since #MeToo, there’s been a growing understanding of why these sources need protection and why they should be heard,” she said.

Bielski has had to take certain measures to make sure that the heavy subject matter of her work stays at work.

“I’ve found myself to be pretty resilient, which, you know, I’m surprised by. It [writing] comes with a sense of privilege, telling those stories and honouring the seriousness of this craft and the gift that you’ve been given to tell these stories.”

She sees a lot of journalists complaining of not knowing when to ‘shut off’, so she is very adamant on making time for herself and her well-being. “Working from home benefits mental health, because you’re already home, you’re in your environment,” she said.

“I have a lovely vegetable garden. I’ve got cats. There’s a lot of creature comforts here that I can turn to.”

She finishes with a piece of advice to journalists in similar situations.

“After nearly two decades in this industry, you do have to shut off. Have a life, talk to your family and talk to your friends because that’s also where stories come from, rather than just sitting in your little bubble.”

Bielski continues working towards giving a voice to the voiceless, as she focuses on writing obituaries for people who have died of COVID-19.

You can find more of her work here.

About this article

Posted: Jul 6 2020 3:02 pm
Filed under: Features Living Room Newsroom