The 2020 News Report commissioned by the EBU – Fast Forward: Public Service Journalism in the Viral Age – suggests that the response of public service newsrooms to the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the value of public service media (PSM) to society overall. But the report also warns that this will not be enough in itself to guarantee the growth of PSM – or even their survival.
Based on feedback from Editors-in-Chief at European media organizations, as well as their own insights, authors Maike Olij and Atte Jääskeläinen predict the likely developments for news reportage and outline what media organizations need to do to keep pace with a fast-changing news environment.
They also showcase 20 case studies from organizations that have had to respond to their own challenges in the context of the pandemic, from addressing fake news, covering conflicting science or using data journalism, to the practicalities around rescheduling, hybrid working and, of course, staff safety.
“COVID-19 has accelerated change and forced through digitalization at a rate that we could not have predicted this time last year. And PSM met that challenge by proving their capacity to innovate and turn around their own organizational structures, cultures and production schedules in just days. These transformations are good indicators for PSM’s future relevance, whatever issues emerge.” says Jääskeläinen.
Olij says, “When we started writing the report at the beginning of the crisis, we saw huge spikes in audience numbers – a real public need for verified, trusted information. But as we’ve progressed through the pandemic, we’ve also seen journalism being criticised and real threats to media freedoms, where governments have used COVID-19 to push through legislation that is negative for news outlets. There are two sides to this coin.”
Nejc Jemec, an Editor-in-Chief at RTVSLO in Slovenia, can see a situation where the broadcaster’s survival is threatened. “We are known for our critical reporting, during the crisis too. And even though the public highly appreciates that approach, politicians are seizing the opportunity to change legislation. I’m afraid of a ‘Hungarian’ situation.”
“The Slovenia situation is one indication that these are pivotal moments for PSM in some countries,” says Olij. “But it really does depend on the country. In many areas, PSM have proven their value so there’s less discussion about that, because they have a bigger support base now. The challenge for all these outlets will be to ensure their sustainability by continuing to develop and – crucially – continuing to make the case for support.”
There are also economic implications for PSM as a result of the crisis, from PSM losing valuable advertising monies to national politicians weighing up intense competition for public funds.
Noel Curran, EBU Director General, says, “During this crisis, our Members have found many ways to bring communities together. It’s what PSM do best – making connections with audiences, providing trusted information. But, as this report makes clear, the challenges now facing the broadcast industry are unprecedented. Financially, the future looks grim – and this has implications that will impact the wider cultural and creative sectors.
“We have to work together to ensure governments understand the critical role PSM have played and will always play in times of crisis. The output provided by our newsrooms across Europe needs support, commitment and investment – sustained over the long term.”
Liz Corbin, EBU Deputy Media Director and Head of News, adds, “A real factor of this pandemic has been how public service news organizations have worked together, pooling resources, knowledge, expertise and skills. Sometimes sharing frustrations and fears too. We’re a team. There’s been no question of holding back information or being ‘competitive’– the priority for all of us has been to establish what our audiences need and how we deliver that, day after day. From my perspective, as we’re increasingly challenged by disruptive forces, that team ethic is stronger than ever.”
Justyna Kurczabinska, Head of Eurovision News Exchange and News Strategy, says “There are opportunities for PSM news if we can build on our strengths – public trust, fact driven news reporting, and impartiality. These are all valued by audiences – especially in crisis – and make a strong case for the protection of PSM. But continuing to change is key. To survive we must adapt fast. The transformation has only just started.”
RTÉ (Ireland); DR (Denmark); France Télévisions; RTBF (Belgium); ARD (Germany); BBC (UK); NDR (Germany); RTS (Switzerland); Yle (Finland); SR (Sweden); NRK (Norway); RÚV (Iceland); RTVSLO (Slovenia); the European Broadcasting Union; LTV (Latvia); KRO-NCRV (the Netherlands); Rai (Italy); ORF (Austria); Suspina Studio, UA:PBC (Ukraine); ITV (UK).
Maike Olij is an independent media consultant and concept developer, who has consulted on strategy and policy for major Dutch media companies, NPO and NOS.
Atte Jääskeläinen is a former Director of News and Current Affairs at Yle with more than 23 years working in Finnish media. He is currently Director General, Higher Education and Research Policy, Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland.
Both authors also collaborated on: The Next Newsroom: Unlocking the Power of AI for Public Service Journalism in 2019 and 50 Ways To Make It Better – Building Audience and Trust in 2018.
Fast-Forward: Public Service Journalism in the Viral Age was launched at the 15th EBU News Assembly, held online, on 19 November 2020.