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How TF1’s News desk coped with the virusGetting the news out, whatever it takes

Report
4 min
22/12/2020

FRANCE

True to the channel’s identity, TF1’s news teams kept the French informed throughout the crisis. Working in totally new ways and at a gruelling pace, they saw their efforts rewarded by exceptionally large audiences.
By Isabelle Godar
workers in meeting wearing masks

MORE WORK, FEWER HANDS

man working at computer
30%
of the personnel present at headquarters at the peak of the lockdown,

Boulogne-Billancourt, 3 June, 2020. As the lockdown was progressively lifted across France, TF1 head office became home to a totally reorganized News department galvanized by the pandemic. Since March, all departments involved in producing news broadcasts on TF1 and LCI, or supplying content to the digital platforms, had had to work in new ways and at an infernal pace. The control rooms, where there are usually 20 or so people, had been operating with slightly fewer technicians. The presenters had to learn how to put on their microphones themselves, and studio operations had been simplified, including the use of one fewer camera.

Despite having only 30% of the personnel present at headquarters at the peak of the lockdown, news teams nevertheless managed to air programmes that were, on average, twice as long as normal. Computer graphics designers and video editors continued to make and edit the visuals for the programmes....but from home, for the first time ever in TF1’s history.

woman writing on tablet

EVERYONE HAD TO ADAPT

Olivier Ravanello, Deputy Director in charge of Digital Strategy and News, was amazed by his teams’ efficiency in continuing to feed content to the websites in these unprecedented circumstances: “Some of our journalists wrote their articles while their kids were playing soccer in the living room!”. Previously unimaginable, reliance on video conferencing to conduct interviews became commonplace.

To the point that rooms were set up specifically to meet the big demand for this: “Reporters were queuing up. As many as 25 Skype interviews a day were being held,” raconte Florence Demigny, says Florence Demigny, Head of the News Transformation unit.

Subscriptions to rent office space and access to monthly afterwork events are offered.

Besides these technical aspects, a team led by Charlotte Delaleu researched names to add to the address books of the programming managers, as doctors, first responders, and epidemiologists were needed in place of the usual line-up of economists and political commentators.

portrait florence
Florence Demigny
Journalist
people talking
Thierry Thuillier
Executive VP of News and Information

THE IMPORTANCE OF STRICT GUIDELINES FOR REPORTS

On the ground, a dozen journalist/video reporter teams were formed and instructed not to come to TF1 head office again. Quartered in apartment-hotels, they were able to cover the crisis without endangering the rest of the news staff.

As Thierry Thuillier, Executive VP of News and Information, explains, their role and that of local correspondents was crucial:

“Thanks to them, our newscasts, though twice as long as usual, were 80% reporting on the ground and 20% from the studio, while our competitors were doing 50-50.”

quote
Thierry Thuillier
Executive VP of News and Information
“I have observed a dedication to the company, which protected its employees and gave them the means to work in complete safety. This confidence was reflected in everyone’s morale, and the quality of our broadcasting. It all goes together!”
man filming

3 questions for…

Anne-Claire Coudray, anchor of the weekend newscasts on TF1 during the entire first lockdown

How were newscasts, sometimes twice as long as usual, put together in such exceptional conditions?

I think journalism is one of the professions best prepared for this kind of event. Adaptation is inherent to our job. I’m proud that we managed to continually adapt to something that was beyond our control and that nobody saw coming. And proud that we were able to put together comprehensive newscasts week after week and offer people useful information that was helpful to their daily lives.

How did you approach a newscast when the Covid-19 epidemic was overshadowing everything else?

It was of course necessary to revamp and adapt our formats. But it was, above all, the tremendous capacity for adaptation in all areas that has kept us going. With the country at a standstill and everyone concerned, many French people showed their pragmatism and took all sorts of initiatives. They wanted to share, to recount their experiences, and we wanted to give them the chance to do that. We also saw seemingly very rigid companies show flexibility and adapt very quickly. We reported on situations like those in our newscasts too.

In your view, what was the role of news broadcasting during this crisis?

As usual, our role was to inform and to analyse. But we also had a responsibility to clarify for our viewers the measures taken by the government and the reasons for the lockdown. It was necessary to explain step by step and make sense of something that, at the outset, might have seemed absurd. By going to see the overloaded intensive care units, by interviewing healthcare workers, we gave a face to the threat. News reporting is a powerful force at times like these. Images are a powerful means to understand what is happening.

Photos Frédéric Berthet