ITV News' Rachel Corp: Life at the sharp end

ITV News' Rachel Corp: Life at the sharp end

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ITV News chief Rachel Corp takes Shilpa Ganatra through her working day

For most of those who work in the TV industry, the old cliché is true: no two days are the same. But when you’re responsible for ITV’s lunchtime, evening, and 10:00pm news, there’s a structure that can’t bend, not even when the world enters lockdown and changes life as we know it. Welcome to the working world of Rachel Corp.

Corp has been ITV News’s acting editor since 2018, after years of high-level, high-stakes news experience. She joined ITN in 2011, after a spell as the BBC’s Moscow producer, climbing to ITV News London’s editor during the mayoral election debates and the Brexit referendum. 

She subsequently led the 5 News team, pulling together coverage of the 2017 snap election with weeks, rather than months, to prepare, before returning to ITV News to cover, among other things, the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. “But coronavirus is the biggest breaking news story that any of us have had for a long time,” she says. “We were watching it coming towards us from Asia, then from the continent, so it’s a breaking story that we could predict but couldn’t plan for.”

Even before “the new normal”, Corp would wake at 6:00am every day in Peckham, south London, where she lives with her husband, Laurence Lee, a senior reporter for Al Jazeera, and their two young daughters.

Such is the 24/7 nature of the job, mornings involve a scan through overnight updates, then exercise, either a run or workout at home, with the radio on.

Defined as a key worker, she drives though all but empty streets to ITN’s HQ at Gray’s Inn Road.

“I feel lucky, as just having a change of scene is healthy mentally,” she says. “I appreciate that I get to see a bit of life, especially as the seasons are changing.”

Across ITN, a team of 240 staff deliver ITV’s lunchtime and early-­evening bulletins and News at Ten, in addition to any extras commissioned. They share editorial duties, but one editor focuses on the management aspects each day, while the other runs the show. Corp is at her desk before 8:00am, but the day officially begins at 9:00am with an editorial meeting. She chairs it when she’s on duty.

“It used to be a big, packed meeting room, but now there’s five or six of us, spread out, two metres apart. Many more are dialling in,” she says, adding that, nowadays, she often works from home. “We’ve had to adapt almost overnight. People have variable internet quality, sometimes you can’t hear properly, but we’ve made it work. Plus, we get a good old peek into people’s houses, which is fun.

“At the moment, news is wall-to-wall coronavirus, so we know the subject we’ll be covering. Often, you can’t define the political news at 9:00am, but so much of our coverage has been original pieces that we’ve chosen the day before. I want to find the people who are falling through the cracks, who perhaps aren’t being talked about.

“For example, early on, we realised that care homes were going to be a huge issue, not because it was in the newspapers or there was a government press release, but because of our own reporting.” 

At the start of the crisis, she and her team changed the lunchtime news to include interviews with experts, to deliver information that their audience wanted to know. It appears to have worked: in March, viewership was up by 63% year-on-year, with an average of 1.3 million tuning in. 

The morning meeting also discusses how to sensitively challenge the political response. “At the start, we made a commitment to get the Government message out – it wasn’t for us to say whether that message was right or wrong,” Corp says. “We still held them to account, but not at the expense of drowning the message or criticising the response simply as balance. But now we’ve moved into a different phase, where there are questions about the economy and exit strategy.”

At the end of the meeting, the day’s coverage will have been loosely agreed, and assigned in more detail than usual to reduce pressure for the team as they stringently follow the safety rules, whether in the field or in the office. “Like emergency services, we run in the opposite direction to everyone else, and we have to find ways to do that safely,” she says.

As if to prove this point, following the editorial meeting, Corp attends an ITN-wide coronavirus meeting with other managers and the heads of editorial, HR and technology, to ensure their policies and guidelines are up to date.

Then, it is the lunchtime news, followed by the first debrief of the day. ITN holds one after each bulletin and they are seen as key to keeping the output on track.

As the diversity and gender lead at ITN, Corp is the first to ensure diversity statistics are reported in the debrief, “although it’s an issue that is more challenging now, when we don’t often have a choice in who’s put up.

“We also discuss what worked and what didn’t work. And perhaps it’s just me as a female editor, but I believe it’s a space to let out the emotion of it, too – we need to express that a piece was a moving or a tough watch. We can’t forget that we are humans in this.” 

Afternoons are usually for strategic work and liaising with ITV. In between, at 2:45pm, the afternoon editorial meeting decides the shape of the evening news.

She returns home by around 8:00pm, though she’s only a phone call away from her team as they complete preparation for the 10:00pm broadcast.

“At least, as my husband and I are both journalists, we understand what each other is going through,” she says. In ordinary times, her family of foodies would spend time together in the kitchen, but they were mid-renovation when lockdown began, so it has become a case of moving boxes to create a makeshift cooking space. 

Evenings are also the time to catch up with friends via video calls and socialise with the rest of her street. “Everyone has piled in to make sure everyone else is OK, and we’ve done a few garden drinks, too,” she says.

Her shift finishes only after the 10:00pm bulletin has been wrapped up. The last debrief emphasises the positive aspects of the team’s work throughout the day. “After that, I can’t pretend I don’t have a glass of wine at night these days,” she says. “Normally, I’d be out several nights a week – I don’t need much sleep – but, as we’re home, I go to bed around midnight during the week.”

The all-consuming work life is only just beginning to ease; at the start of the crisis, she worked around 30 days in a row. “As editor, I am on call 24/7. I’ve always made myself available and that just is the way it is,” she says. “In the first weeks of the crisis, we were all living off adrenaline, but that couldn’t be sustained for ever. Now, it’s about finding things to replace the adrenaline and maintaining that energy. 

“And this is the long haul, so we’ve been making sure that people have down time. I took six days off at Easter. The last few years have been dominated by Brexit, where you never knew what was coming next, but this is different because you don’t know when it is going to end. And we’ve hardly begun on the global recession, which is so huge in itself.”

But addressing the seismic story that remains in front of us for now, that’s for another day.

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