As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation escalates in Europe and worldwide, audiences are turning in increasing numbers to public service media (PSM) for evidence-based news content in a rapidly developing - and changing - situation.
In a report looking at PSM audience performance during the COVID-19 crisis, the EBU’s Media Intelligence Service found that, at key junctions, the reach of PSM organization’s evening news bulletin has doubled while daily viewing is up 14% on average.
Eurovision News, since first covering the virus on 9 January, has delivered almost 3,400 news edits and over 250 live outputs - an average of five hours of daily live coverage on COVID-19.
EBU Members are also rapidly responding to the situation by extending and changing their programming and introducing new content. All Member newsrooms are dealing with an unprecedented level of audience questions and the PSM remit of informing and educating remains a priority, whether that is sharing the most up-to-date public health advice or challenging an ‘infodemic’ of misinformation and fake news.
At the same time, newsrooms across PSM are themselves coping with cases of COVID-19, instigating quarantining measures for staff (with journalists setting up news operations in their living rooms) and journalists in the field having to take extreme precautions to keep themselves safe.
Liz Corbin is the EBU’s Deputy Media Director and Head of News: “In times of national or international crisis, millions of people turn to public service television, radio and online. When it comes to public health, the public wants a source of reliable and trustworthy information. And the coronavirus epidemic shows that journalists from these organizations are going further than ever to get the best news as quickly as possible.”
A dedicated WhatsApp group has been convened for PSM news outlets to share the latest news, help with verification of stories and ensure reporting is accurate, swift and reliable, so that citizens across Europe and beyond are across latest developments as they happen, can trust the source of news, and that stories have been properly verified.
The group also ensures that Members have another route for accessing Eurovision News Services including the Eurovision News Exchange Social Newswire – which enables swift verification that an eye-witness report or photograph is the real thing. The department has also delivered two online data journalism courses for Members to discuss best practices for navigating the virus situation and ideas for using global and local data sources to explain its impact.
"With such a subject, with a virus that does not respect borders and that puts journalists who cover it at risk of catching it and spreading the disease, collaborative journalism is absolutely crucial. The EBU, particularly, is well placed to facilitate this collaboration and has been a focal point for all of its Members," added Liz Corbin.
"Journalists are competitive by nature, they want scoops and exclusive material. But in the EBU community, journalists also understand that the more they contribute, the more everyone benefits. Most importantly, the public gets the best quality, when it's most needed.”
Eric Scherer, Director of Foresight, France Télévisions said, “This is unprecedented co-operation of editorial staff in European public broadcasting. Around 20 individual newsrooms are sharing breaking news, deployments, security protocols, subjects of interest, image exchanges and exclusives. Ultimately we are helping each other to fight against disinformation.” Read his blog in full.
EBU Members are having to make huge adjustments to report on the escalating situation. Here are just a few examples:
Juan Tato-Suarez, Head of Radio Foreign Desk at RTVE:
“Our priority at RTVE is to keep 100% of our programmes running in order to fulfil our PSM role and keep people informed. It is a big challenge and we are learning a lot. We have sent all our radio journalists home with audio codecs. As many as we have available! They file their reports, live and recorded, remotely. The only people in the newsroom are editors and core technicians. We have also separated editors from their deputies so they can work in different locations…Our 24h channels (radio and TV) are now totally dedicated to the coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“EBU services are proving very useful. For example, the WhatsApp group helps us with trusted news from other countries and gives us the heads-up when something important is about to happen. Our journalists working from home are also increasingly dependent on the News Exchange for sounds and clips because these are available online and can be downloaded.”
Anders Pontara, Acting Head of Foreign Desk, Sveriges Radio:
“Swedish Radio is focussing on continually reviewing our strategy and adapting to the situation day-by-day. We also need to think of long-term solutions should the crisis worsen and should we find ourselves in an Italy-like situation. Right now, I estimate about 50% of SR staff are working from home and about 25% in the newsroom. We have not yet experienced major disruption and the programming schedule has not changed. We have increased our live broadcast ratio because we understand that audience feel they need to be informed more often with the latest information. This is true in all areas of news, from health to education to business and finance. Coronavirus is dominating all aspects of our programmes.”
Pavel Vondra, Senior Editor, Czech Radio Plus:
“We have cut live broadcast on our channel (Czech Radio Plus) by about 45%, effectively keeping only our morning show (with just one host instead of the usual two) and significantly shortened the afternoon show. The evening one had to go completely. Should the virus get into the newsroom, we are prepared to merge the two channels providing news output (Radiozurnal and Czech Radio Plus) into one, in order to continue fulfilling our PSM role and keep the country informed. The newsroom has been completely sealed off to allow the core programme makers to work safely. Many colleagues are filing their reports, live or recorded, from home and we have created a special interview room for guests on a different floor."