Briefing Notes: BBC World News
Liz Corbin from BBC World News told us about herself. She has been with the BBC 17 years, going through a variety of roles, working on Breakfast, 6 and 10 O’clock News, the News channel, Reality Check, Westminster and more recently, as bureau chief in Singapore.
Liz is responsible for the rolling news on BBC World News. It’s a TV channel that reaches 100m people around the world and she leads a newsroom with 100 journalists.
BBC World News is only broadcast outside the UK. It is funded by advertising not the licence fee and so needs to make a profit. Although it is a commercial channel it has a public service ethos. Its content is provided by BBC News correspondents, producers, crews etc. BBC News has a contract with the channel to provide this in bulk.
The hub of BBC World News is the planning desk which is in touch with correspondents and producers around the world. Liz and her World News team sit in the newsroom which is shared with BBC News so there is a good flow of information.
The audience for BBC World News is global but particularly strong in Asia/Pacific, South Asia, Africa and the US. Many are business leaders watching in hotel rooms but the audience tends to be youngish, affluent, aspirational, skewing slightly male (56%). She sees the audience as having a global outlook and being interested in making sense of world events.
The channel has a strong focus on business news but its broader aim is to join up the dots and help viewers to understand the significance of global events and trends. Whenever she is pitched a story, Liz always asks ‘why would this interest our audience?’ It’s not enough to tell the audience facts or provide them with interesting information – there needs to be added value. Scheduling stories is important as peak viewing times are breakfast and early evening, so an African story will be scheduled with that in mind so that the African audience sees it when it is watching.
The channel is a mix of news and features – there’s a travel show, a programme on technology, and other well-known brands like HardTalk, Our World and Focus on Africa. Some of this material will find its way onto other BBC channels or commercial channels – for example Focus on Africa (the TV show not the radio programme) is syndicated to 20+ commercial channels across Africa. Beyond 100 Days is also shown on BBC4 and the BBC News Channel.
How to pitch to the channel
Liz’s advice is to think of the story not the issue. Think about why it’s of interest to their audience – what would the headline be? Get to know the schedule and decide which show is the best fit for your story.
Each show has a target audience. For example The Briefing (on at 0500 GMT) is aimed at central Europe and Africa; GMT (at midday) is aimed at Asia/Pacific and US East coast; Impact (1pm) is aimed at Asia/Pacific; Focus on Africa (6.30pm) only runs African stories. Also think about the business shows of which there are several (Business Briefing, Business Live, World Business Report, Asia Business report).
You can see the schedule here.
You can pitch to the planning desk or contact them for advice on how to get in touch with individual programme editors. You can email them or phone them up. You can also go on LinkedIn and track down producers and editors and approach them direct.
Keep your idea brief and focused and do not inundate them with press releases. Be targeted. Alternatively, you can contact in country reporters who will pitch to World News and other outlets too. Liz’s advice is to form relationships with individual producers and reporters. When she was bureau chief in Singapore she had a few key NGO contacts who she knew could offer someone in an emergency.
They have an appetite for a wide range of stories. They will keep covering Syria and Yemen so are keen to find new angles. They’re interested in climate change but what can they report that is new? She gave the example of Roger Harrabin reporting on electric planes in Norway.
Their audience has an interest in climate change and environmental stories – also in new technology and innovation. When you’re getting in touch suggest the programme for which you think your story would be best suited. Watch the channel to get a feel for it.
If you’re contacting correspondents it’s worth bearing in mind that in some countries there is only one (for example Japan, Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Australia etc) who will work for all BBC outlets.
Putting up interviewees
If you want to suggest an interviewee for a running story contact the planning desk. If they have already been on BBC News then their name will be on the internal BBC database.
Make sure you have vetted the person you are offering and that their English is good and clear (many watching have English as a second language so struggle with strong accents).
BBC News also has a target to increase the number of women appearing as experts – they want to hit 50-50. So if you are offering a woman you will stand more chance. If you’re offering a man, they may even ask you if a woman could do the interview instead.
Generally, they are keen on first person testimony from the field rather than an expert in the studio, but there are exceptions. She’s keen on celebs. The other important thing is there needs to be a good internet connection if the person is appearing via Skype.
Digital is important and Liz sits near the digital news team so she gets a good idea from them of which stories and topics the audience is interested in. The BBC News website is mainly run from London.
The UK version is licence fee funded. All non UK versions are funded by advertising. There are several editions: Asia/Pacific/South Asia; US; Canada; Europe/Africa. It’s the same content in each edition, just distributed differently, possibly with different headlines or slightly different copy.
Using NGO video
Liz said the BBC had to be careful about doing this – more so than other broadcasters. They preferred to shoot their own material but if this was not possible and they used NGO footage they would give an on screen credit to make this clear. She explained that NGOs always have a point of view and however sympathetic, the BBC has to stand back and be independent. She did say that this did not reflect a loss of trust in NGOs.