Major crises, such as COVID-19, have had a dramatic impact on tourism work. This paper investigates changes in news media reporting of tourism work from pre-pandemic norms, employing McQuail’s classification for media and mass communications. We interrogate 664 news articles across two comparative periods. Findings indicate that news media themes in 2019 were often found in the ‘soft news’ sections, whereas the 2020 news elevated into ‘hard news’ sections, highlighting job losses, precarious work and community spirit. The analysis points to a more sympathetic narrative in the media about tourism employment. Theoretically, the paper is original in applying McQuail’s media classification to tourism employment in a crisis context, contributing to our understanding of potential impacts of news media reporting.