From capturing to distributing news, global broadcasters are faced with significant challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. IBC365 investigates the agility of live news productions from the EBU, Euronews, BBC, ITV News and RTÉ.
The coronavirus crisis has rapidly disrupted societies and economies around the world with businesses shutting down or even declaring bankruptcy, events being forced to postpone or cancel. Meanwhile, broadcasters are working overtime to bring the public timely, relevant and important news.
Journalism is a critical element to a functioning democratic society, but what happens to public service media (PSM) and other organisations when governments have to introduce rules on social distancing and disrupt working life as we know it?
The Eurovision News Exchange is a unique network drawing on the resources of European PSM newsrooms operating in over 50 countries. It provides journalists with round-the-clock access to live and edited news stories, as they happen, across the globe. The Exchange holds thousands of edited news, radio and sports items, as well as live content. It also offers on average 50 cleared pieces of content daily from social media.
Liz Corbin, deputy media director of the EBU, says: “From the beginning of this crisis, the EBU has taken a cautious and proactive approach to protecting staff but also maintaining the crucial services.
She adds: “Keeping staff safe from an invisible threat is a situation few, if any, broadcasters had detailed plans for. But they have risen to the challenge with extraordinary ingenuity and energy.
“In a couple of cases, teams have decided to self-isolate in the office, giving up their liberty for up to two weeks in order to safeguard the news programming.”
The EBU has a dedicated WhatsApp group for PSM news outlets to share the latest news, help verify stories and ensure reporting across broadcasters is accurate and reliable.
“The EBU has taken a cautious and proactive approach to protecting staff but also maintaining the crucial services” Liz Corbin, EBU
The purpose behind this initiative is to ensure citizens across Europe and beyond are up-to-date with the latest developments as they happen, says the EBU, drawing from credible sources with the assurance that the content is verified.
“The Eurovision News Exchange has exchanged content every day since 1962 and there is no way we were going to let this virus break that run,” says Corbin. “Collaboration is key and the EBU is working closely with all our PSM members on content verification and delivery.”
The Exchange has also delivered two online data journalism courses for its members to discuss the best practice for navigating the virus situation, offering ideas for using global and local data sources to explain its impact.
More than ever, people are turning to trusted, reliable news to help navigate the rapidly developing situation and work out how it affects them and their network.
The UK government has designated public service broadcasters (PSB) as key workers that are an essential part of society.
Rachel Corp, acting editor at ITV News, says: “As journalists and as a broadcaster, we have covered every kind of story, but coronavirus is totally different – this is not something we report on for a while then leave, coming back to the safety of our homes. We are living this all together.”
According to Corp, the numbers speak for themselves – with record viewership across both TV and online, the team “appreciate the responsibility we have,” she says.
Corp says: “The coronavirus has thrown up challenges to this in a way we have never seen before, so we have adapted how we work to keep our staff safe as well as the public and people we are talking to.”
From a technical perspective, the team at ITV News are adhering to the two-metre guidance on social distancing, with many interviews conducted over video platforms, studios fitted with special microphones on long booms, camera operators working through windows and other creative methods.
Broadcasting for the better
Broadcasters, media outlets and social media giants have rallied to service their audiences. We’ve seen Netflix donate £1 million to a new fund set up by the BFI and the Film and TV Charity aimed at supporting the creative community during the coronavirus pandemic.
UK telco Virgin Media secured a first of its kind deal with NBCUniversal to offer its customers access to the studio’s new releases on the same day they hit cinemas.
French pay TV provider Canal+ has said it will make its service free during France’s country-wide coronavirus lockdown.
In Canada, the CRTC will not request payment for Part I licence fees by broadcasters for the 2020-21 fiscal year, in a move the Canadian government and broadcasting regulator said aimed to provide relief to the sector.
Facebook also offered support for the international news industry amid the global coronavirus by promising to give $100 million in grant money to the sector.
Trusted and accurate information is at the heart of all PSBs and as the UK’s largest broadcaster, BBC News outlined last month its plans to keep audiences receiving continuous news coverage across TV, radio and online.
Fran Unsworth, director of news and current affairs at the BBC, wrote in a blog post about the broadcaster’s commitment to its viewers despite streamlining its schedules and suspending some programmes they’re responding as quickly as possible within a rapidly evolving situation.
She said: “Many of our staff are now working from home (which is sometimes giving viewers an unexpected insight into the kitchens, attics and basements of familiar BBC presenters). But many cannot - including the technical staff who keep us on-air and some of our reporters across the UK.
“It’s our responsibility to you, our audiences, to report ‘on the ground’. To show you what is happening across the country and the world; to record the effects of the government’s measures to fight the virus; to talk to the staff on the frontline of the NHS; to chronicle how the UK is faring during its ‘lockdown’,” she continued. “And, as ever, to question, explain, and give context to what is happening.”
The EBU implemented remote working procedures before government lockdowns and working from home became the widespread norm.
Liz Corbin explains: “We had a number of contingency plans, none specifically for this situation, but within three to four days we had sent everyone home who could easily work from home, issued laptops to all operational staff and designed a workflow which allowed us to reduce staff in the office to an absolute minimum.
“We have also requisitioned two other rooms in EBU HQ to operate as alternative newsrooms in case we need decamp from the main newsroom,” she continues. “We now restrict entry to our building and conduct health screening on arrival.”
The EBU has also split the team into three groups: two which rotate working in the office but never cross over and one that permanently works from home.
“At our office in Rome our colleagues have had to take even stronger measures to protect themselves and the people who use our broadcast facilities,” says Corbin. “From masks, gloves and goggles, to disposable microphone covers and strict screening and distancing, it has been a huge challenge.”
Working to the new normal
The responsibility to disseminate news is all too familiar for RTÉ News video journalists in the digital first team. One such is Eleanor Mannion, who films and edits stories exclusively on her iPhone and iPad.
“I have always used apps on my smartphone, such as Filmic Pro and Lumafusion, to bring in motion graphics, maps and effects that lift the production quality of my stories,” Mannion says. “This way of working has been a good starting point for me and my team under the current Covid-19 restrictions that are now in place across Ireland.”
“As a mobile journalist flexibility is key and our ability to deliver positive uplifting stories from people all around Ireland” Eleanor Mannion, RTÉ
Under the government restrictions, Mannion has been working remotely for RTÉ News since the start of March and has successfully delivered bespoke social content which is repurposed for radio and TV platforms. However, given the current climate, the RTÉ News team is also working with more user-generated content.
“We are asking people to send us their positive stories. We are conducting interviews via Skype or instructing our interviewees how best to record their interview using their smartphone,” she explains: “They then send them to us via cloud. This has been an interesting yet seamless transition for my team to make.
“As a mobile journalist flexibility is key,” she adds. “Our ability to deliver positive uplifting stories from people all around Ireland has proven a valuable news-gathering method for RTÉ News.”
- Read more: Spotlight on: Mobile journalists
PSBs are under an increasing amount of pressure to report responsibility, stick to the facts, and not exaggerate or play on people’s fears in an attempt to keep them engaged.
Françoise Champey, chief content officer at Euronews outlined to IBC365 the efforts journalists are going to: “We have a dedicated Covid-19 Hub on our website for users to keep abreast with the latest information and data, and we have launched this week a specially dedicated coronavirus newsletter written by our political editor Darren McCaffrey in Brussels.
“A lot of our longer format programmes, such as Business Planet, Unreported Europe or Climate Now, are taking a closer look at the crisis and its consequences on society, the economy, or the environment,” he adds.
“We have a dedicated Covid-19 Hub on our website for users to keep abreast with the latest information and data” Françoise Champey, Euronews
Euronews is uniquely positioned to report and offer analysis of the latest news coming from Brussels and capitals across Europe, with its team working for 12 language editions.
According to Champey, its current emphasis is on separating facts from fake news. There are no plans to stop broadcasting, however, staff welfare is a fundamental priority.
“Our duty to keep our staff safe is paramount and we have been operating for over a week now with an altered grid and a strict minimum of staff in the newsroom,” Champey says. “We have put in place measures which enable journalists to work from home.”
All digital journalists at Euronews are now working this way, as well as many of its broadcast journalists, explains Champey, following a directive put in place even before the French government imposed its confinement policies.
Champey continues: “Staff who are in the newsroom have been observing strict rules to ensure their safety; we have spread them across the newsroom to ensure they are distanced from one another.”
Long live traditional media
News teams globally have had to adapt and work quickly under trying circumstances, all with the joint purpose to educate and inform the public on important information.
Champey points to the “definite recurrent narrative about established media becoming irrelevant in the age of social media,” however he explains what this crisis has proved is when the public want accurate information, they turn to traditional media outlets.
She says: “A lot of fake news is circulating on social media, and people need journalists more than ever to separate facts from fake news. The surge in traffic to our website over the last few weeks illustrates this.”
“This experience is also helping us develop new skills, new technologies and new ways of working together” Liz Corbin, EBU
EBU’s Corbin adds: “This experience is also helping us develop new skills, new technologies and new ways of working together. It seems inconceivable that some of the things we’ve learned during this crisis won’t endure once it is over.
“It will have made us more resilient in terms of how we produce and distribute news. I also hope it will change the negative conversations about public service media – it has been a lifeline for individuals and communities through this crisis, carrying information which has no doubt saved lives.
“There is a reason many governments have defined public service journalists as key workers, recognising that the work they do is crucial to beating this virus.”