Independent media in Donbass? No, that’s not moonshine. In a region where approximately two dozens of media organizations closed down between 2014 and 2015, new projects start emerging. The project leaders of two independent Internet media outlets talk about growth challenges, relations with the government and about journalism in an interview for the ”Pervoe Chislo” (First Day) newsletter.
We are having a conversation with Maria Davydenko, Director of the “Vchasno” news agency (based in Krasnoarmeysk), and Anna Bokovaya, Editor-in-Chief of the public media portal Bahmut.in.ua (based in Bahmut/Artemovsk).
Anna Bokovaya: We live in the near-front zone, yet the local media do not cover the problems of the other side
Bahmut.in.ua started as a volunteer project when the pro-Ukrainian town dwellers realized that soldiers and displaced persons needed help. Eventually, this gave way to public organizations and various movements. It has become necessary to publicize their activity and inform people of their events. Back in those times, I was a member of an organization called “Ukrainian Bahmut”. The website came along thanks to the grant scheme by the International Renaissance Foundation.
It didn’t all work out exactly as we planned. I had this vision of a team work, but for a while I was doing the jobs of the website’s editor and journalist at the same time. I was in charge of creating content and prioritizing it. I couldn’t be completely unbiased of course or cover the whole media space. Besides, in the course of my work I started realizing that combining editing and policy making with high performance was unrealistic. Now I have an assistant. Her name is Alyona Shchekodina. There are other people who would like to study.
We have been working as volunteers for almost a year. We would certainly like this public media portal to evolve. There are two ways to support this evolution: raising grant funds and involving volunteers, so that the staff would comprise 10-15 public journalists. They could do the writing in their free time, yet keep their motivation high enough to issue from 2 to 3 pieces per week.
My number one priority is to enroll a team of socially active journalists who would like to work in this field by diligently covering events and advancing their professional careers.
Nowadays high demands are being placed on young journalists: they are expected to cut, edit and film everything at high speed. A specialist is supposed to be many-sided. This quality can be easily acquired through learning and getting some basic skills. This has to be done. Small towns are losing it in terms of the concept of journalism per se.
Relations with the Government
There is no direct pressure. But in the beginning they did not invite us to any events. They’ve only started doing it recently. They just ignored us. They must have disliked certain articles. The thing is that we have a war here, people are dying, problems abound. Yet we haven’t been invited over to a single information day (press conference) for the last six months.
Usually such information days are organized when the local government wants to report on their good work and achievements. They present many reports and lots of data. These six months have seen millions of reasons to hold the information day, initiate a discussion or tell people some news. Yet the first information day was organized on the account of the jubilee of Alexey Reva, the town mayor. They first held the usual ceremony and then included the greetings to the mayor from the local counselors.
I didn’t put two and two together at first. When I realized what happened, I felt so bitter … Then they brought those roses. They did it in such a cynical way. We never said a word about the ongoing war around us or about the number of people who died in the vicinity of Artemovsk.
However, this year, our first session started with the anthem of Ukraine. I was astonished and inspired with it.
There are three websites working in the town, but none of them is motivated to create professional content. There is no motivation to write extraordinary materials on new topics or seek new approaches. Each website has attracted its own audience and is holding onto it.
At the moment, the Donbass media earn next to nothing. The economy is vulnerable, private business is struggling. Those media that manage to evolve are funded with grants. It is good, as those media can afford to be modern, independent and interesting.
I am far from trying to offend my colleagues who depend on a media owner. The municipal media are also dependent on the local government whose help they need. Some might be pressed or blackmailed, and they are well aware of it.
We live in the near-front zone, yet the local media do not cover the challenges of the other side. We are kind of close, and they are supposed to share this and present different points of views. But unfortunately, the materials that are being presented do not highlight different opinions – those of the government, the public, this side, that side. In this case, the dialog is carried out within an article and the problem reveals itself. This happens so seldom. It takes much time and requires a certain motivation.
We have also encountered another challenge: some time ago, we wanted to take part in compiling some materials on the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement. We understood that there was no information whatsoever on the local level. So we turned to the local authorities where they were staring wide-eyed at us. They give this even less thought than we do. They have different priorities such as grants, huge investments, so they are busy with writing programs, drawing up documents needed for spending the money. Nobody cares about what is going to happen in 5–10 years.
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