Everything, everywhere, all at once

Head of Eurovision News Exchange and EBU deputy media director, Liz Corbin, considers the challenge of news on every frontline

Is it just me, or does working in ‘the news’ these days feel like being in Everything, Everywhere, All At Once? I mean, I’m no Michelle Yeoh, but I can’t help but think we’re living in some sort of multiverse.

We’ve an unimaginably horrific war in Europe to cover; our budgets are splintering; political pressure is reaching new limits; and we have to radically transform in every area of our operations.

Why stop there? Let’s not forget that everyone expects quality journalism for free; we’re responsible for making sure the world understands climate change; we’re managing a mental health crisis; and if we don’t reach more under-30s soon we’re going to lose our relevance and legitimacy.

They say ‘pick your battles’. That’d be nice!

The battles being fought in journalism are definitely everything, everywhere and all at once. So it wasn’t hard to settle on ‘the frontlines of news’ as the topic for the 2023 meeting of the News Xchange.

And it’s been a long wait. The News Xchange last met in Paris in November 2019. Global pandemics were the stuff of history books, or science fiction novels. Almost no one had heard of Zoom. And the idea of producing news in any other place but a centralised ‘factory of news’ was something only talked about at… oh… places like the News Xchange.

Three and a half years later and we’ve learned so much, and a new era of journalism has been born. If the old era was driven by competition and the relentless hunger to beat the opposition, the new era can be defined by our collaboration.

Teams in the field have always helped each other out, even the fiercest of rivals. In today’s war in Ukraine this continues. A broken camera leads to the sharing of a generator, in exchange for help to go live on a flagship programme. Or the unprecedented cooperation between EBU members to get an interview with President Zelenskyy a few weeks into the war. We’re stronger together.

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the EBU brought together editors-in-chief from across the continent to share information, tips, experiences. It was part group counselling, part fortune-telling. None of us who were there will forget listening to RAI (Italy) tell us what our future was about to become. And I know this sounds ridiculous, because everyone was on mute (once they’d found the button), but it was like you could hear a pin drop on that call. A global pandemic, like a global financial crisis or persistent disinformation, doesn’t care who we work for or where we live, it’s in all our interests to share everything we know.

Like any major event, the pandemic changed our mindset. We should go further. As resources tighten, why spend them only on what we do for our own audiences, perhaps there’s a way to make our money go further. Can we share more actual journalism between news organizations? Let’s be honest, journalists aren’t always great at cooperating within their organizations, what chance do we have of getting them to do so with people from other countries, who speak other languages? The digital news exchange project “A European Perspective” now has 15 (and growing) public service media directly publishing news content from each other on their news websites. I don’t mind saying, the success has been far beyond what I imagined.

So let’s keep going!

Take another small topic… the future of the planet. There are (thankfully) now few people who would argue that climate journalism isn’t important to invest in. But that’s more money, and probably more carbon to be spent. Quality journalism costs both, and at the moment we’re producing, pardon the pun, too much hot air and not enough impact. So we must learn how to collaborate. The EBU News Report: Climate Journalism That Works has some fantastic advice on where to start.

Also on a global level, the World Broadcasting Union has created a News Committee to see how cooperation could expand. On journalist safety, press freedom, disinformation, and the major issues facing quality journalism today. I look forward to working with colleagues from the Caribbean to south east Asia and everywhere in between.

I’m still a firm believer in competition, it drives quality, it inspires all of us to do better for our audiences. But collaboration is what will guarantee our survival. To quote a character in the film of the moment: ‘I wasn’t looking for you so I could kill you. I was just looking for someone who could see what I see, feel what I feel.’

So let’s come together again and redouble our efforts to drive quality journalism onwards and upwards. News Xchange has been bringing friends and rivals together for 20 years and as Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) said: “of all the places I could be, I just want to be here with you.”

See you in Dublin!

Liz Corbin
Liz Corbin
Liz Corbin is the Deputy Media Director and Head of News at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). She oversees the Eurovision News Exchange, the Eurovision News Events broadcast services team, Radio News, and digital transformation projects. She is also regularly involved in advocating for public service media and trusted, quality journalism. Liz joined the EBU in January 2020, coinciding almost exactly with the biggest global news story we’ve seen in years: COVID-19. For Eurovision News, the rapidly escalating situation meant a rapid change in working practices, as the team had to find a balance between workplace restrictions and technical challenges with the need to deliver creatively to an unprecedented demand for 24-hour coverage. Says Liz of that time, “It was an extraordinary time because the absolute basics of broadcast journalism were tested. TV journalism is teamwork. People working physically close to each other, on the road, in the edit suite, in the studio. We had to switch to makeshift arrangements that, by necessity, had to frequently take place in people’s homes. Every part of the news operation had to be reimagined – but it also showed public service journalism at its best, when the need for trusted, reliable information had never been greater.” Since then, Liz has overseen the Eurovision News response to the election of President Biden; the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban; the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; and, of course, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. All against a backdrop of changing work methods, evolving priorities and increasing pressures on public service newsrooms. “No-one is in any doubt that we are living and reporting in a time where the sands shift so quickly under our feet, we often wonder how we remain upright at all! But change is not only necessary, it’s desirable. And it must be perpetual. For me, change brought me to this career in the first place. I never wanted a job that was the same, day in day out.” Prior to joining the EBU, Liz worked at the BBC for 18 years, most recently as Head of News at the international channel, BBC World News. Previous roles include Editor of BBC Reality Check where she oversaw a large expansion in the team. She was also the BBC Singapore Bureau Editor for four years where she created an integrated newsroom.