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#OpenUp to the Press Centre

21 May 2021 at 09:00 CEST
Steve Holden, BBC Newsbeat
What's it like to cover the Eurovision Song Contest, especially in a challenging year this like? With 39 participants, breaking news, and a Host City filled with events to cover, spoke to two journalists in Rotterdam to find out...

If the press at Eurovision had a slogan, it would be ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’.

In a normal year, it’s a whirlwind of interviews and press conferences, writing articles and social posts and recording content to be broadcast on TV, radio and news channels back home. It’s undeniably hard work, but the atmosphere in the Host City and venues like EuroClub have offered press the opportunity to kick back and enjoy the event.

A good number of the press who work at the Eurovision Song Contest are also big fans of the show, so for many it’s a chance to spend two weeks covering something they’re truly passionate about, and catch up with fellow journalists, bloggers and podcasters from around the world. It’s hard work, but it’s also the biggest party in Europe.

Eden Alene - Israel - Qualifiers Press Conference - 18 May 2021 EBU / Andres Putting

2021 is, of course, a little different. Interest in Eurovision has never been higher, because so many of the fans who would normally travel to the Host City are watching from home and scouring social media for the latest news on their favourite performers. The added challenge of COVID-19 has increased the demand for live updates, and the 500 members of the press who received accreditation to be in Rotterdam Ahoy are on the reporting front line.

It would normally be many more than 500 – it’s not unusual for 1500 members of the international media and online fan communities to be elbowing each other for space in the Eurovision press area. But this year numbers are restricted, and a further 1000 press representatives have been given access to an online press centre that provides live-streamed access to rehearsals, interviews and press conferences, as well as all the latest information on what’s happening in and around Rotterdam Ahoy.

Press Conference Hall - Rotterdam Ahoy NPO/NOS/AVROTROS Nathan Reinds

So what’s it like for the press who have made the trip to the Netherlands? Steve Holden from BBC Newsbeat travelled to Rotterdam from London to make a documentary about United Kingdom's James Newman’s journey to the contest, along with the other 38 competing nations.

Watch: The Road to Rotterdam (BBC Radio 1 YouTube)

‘It’s definitely been a more sobering experience this year,’ Steve tells us. ‘No parties and no mingling! I’m either in the Press Centre at Rotterdam Ahoy or in my hotel.’

For Steve, the logistics are also a challenge. ‘There’s so much more to consider,’ he says. ‘You have to factor in extra time in time for COVID-19 testing, and there are far fewer locations for filming. Protocols are quite restrictive - I can’t interview a singer in their hotel lobby or in the street, everything has to be organised to minimise risk. There’s less flexibility.’

Steve Holden, BBC Newsbeat

But like every journalist we’ve spoken to, Steve appreciates being one of the few who have coveted access to the competition. ‘It’s such a privilege, and I know so many others who would love to be here but couldn’t make it work. It’s a more challenging contest, but I’m definitely not complaining. I’m thrilled to be here.’

Steve’s sentiments are echoed by Marco Schreuder, a journalist and blogger from Austria, who has been to Eurovision eleven times – once as a fan, and ten times as an accredited member of the press. He writes a Eurovision blog for Der Standard, Austria’s biggest online newspaper, as well as his own podcast, Merci, Chérie.

Journalist Marco Schreuder

For Marco, one of the biggest differences has been the absence of his Eurovision family. For him, Eurovision is like a reunion, where he meets up with press and fans who have become close friends.

It’s an important part of the Eurovision experience, but on the flip-side 2021 has been an opportunity to meet some new people. ‘I think Eurovision have done the best job they can, and it’s working out fine. We still get to interview the entries, but the challenges are small. The alternative would have been no Eurovision at all, which isn’t what any of us wanted. We’re here, Eurovision is happening, and that’s what counts.’