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Engaged journalism in Central and Eastern Europe: a snapshot from 2020


Engaged journalism in Central and Eastern Europe: a snapshot from 2020

Picture of Anna Merryfield
Anna Merryfield — Freelance project assistant
January 21, 2021

42 new organisations added to our Engaged Journalism in Europe Database

2020 has undoubtedly been a difficult year for all media organisations, but despite the obvious challenges, we have continued to witness organisations going above and beyond to engage with their communities.

Today, we’re pleased to announce the addition of 42 news organisations to our Engaged Journalism in Europe Database. The database, which we first published in August 2018 and have regularly updated since, now counts 187 news organisations practising different forms of community-driven journalism across 34 European countries. Of the 42 outlets added today, 18 are from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the South Caucasus. This latest update also includes five new CEE countries that were previously not represented in the database: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia.

This work was made possible through the support of a year-long grant from Open Society Foundations (OSF). It allowed us to continue and build on the knowledge-sharing activities and content developed during the Engaged Journalism Accelerator programme, which ran from August 2018 until December 2019. The funding from OSF enabled us to focus on highlighting more organisations practising engaged journalism in CEE and the South Caucasus, including how the COVID-19 pandemic pushed them to rethink the way they engage with their communities.

We also wrote six in-depth case studies about engaged journalism in outlets based in Georgia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Sweden. Most of the publications featured in the case studies and in the updated database applied to the EJC’s European Journalism COVID-19 Support Fund, which is how we became aware of their work, and some were selected to receive funding through the programme.

Below are some examples from these case studies that highlight the important role that engaged journalism played in these organisations during the pandemic.

Diversifying revenue streams to navigate a financial crisis

All the organisations we interviewed suffered from financial difficulties during the COVID-19 crisis, as a result of their revenue streams collapsing. Some organisations lost up to 90% of their income in the first few months of lockdown. This prompted them to rethink their reliance on one revenue source (in most cases, this was advertising).

Hungarian platform launched a crowdfunding campaign in the early months of the pandemic in order to recoup some of the income it lost due to cancelled advertising contracts. The campaign was more successful than anticipated (covering 6% of the company’s overall expenses), prompting to keep the donation page as a permanent feature on its website. OC Media (Georgia), which is largely financed through grant funding, lost the support of one of its core funders at the beginning of the pandemic, and took action by developing its paid subscriber base and dedicating a single member of the team to focusing solely on fundraising. This helped the outlet secure new grants and plan a new fundraising strategy.

To find out more about how many other organisations have increased their resilience during COVID-19, you can read the Resilience Reports published by our colleagues at the EJC.

Finding new ways of engaging with communities in spite of restrictions

The organisations we spoke to continued to test new ways to engage with their communities in the face of lockdowns and restrictions. North Macedonian platform used the funding it received from the EJC’s COVID-19 Support Fund to launch a large-scale mapping project to find out where communities in North Macedonia were lacking adequate access to water and infrastructure during the pandemic, with particular emphasis on the conditions of Roma people. The outputs of this project were a report delivered to decision-makers asking them to make improvements, as well as a series of articles raising awareness of the challenges faced by these communities.

Creating more responsive content to meet the information needs of communities

The pandemic changed the type of news people consumed, and the kind of information they needed to make informed decisions about their lives. OC Media adopted a new format of short live updates on its website, which focused in part on tackling misinformation around COVID-19. The organisation found that its readership increased by 23.1% in the months following the start of the pandemic, and that its Russian language readership doubled. As a result, the team hired a Russian-speaking outreach officer to oversee community engagement and experiment with social media formats.

In response to concerns about mental health challenges among its listeners, Radio Feral created a special programme where mental health professionals were invited on air to educate listeners about mental health and provide advice. Chai Khana, an issues-based platform covering the South Caucasus, launched an edition called ‘Isolation’, dedicated to exploring the theme of isolation among communities in the South Caucasus and how this was affecting local people dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.

A training workshop for young people run by Radio Feral (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
A training workshop for young people run by Radio Feral (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Using engaged journalism as a tool to tackle wider societal problems

One of the key trends we have noticed is that many outlets in CEE and the South Caucasus are using engaged journalism as a tool to tackle bigger structural problems affecting their communities. We have seen how Radio Feral has been running media training workshops as a tool for peacebuilding among young people in its community, who are divided as a legacy of the war. is using its platform as a tool for holding people in power accountable by reporting on the living conditions of marginalised groups. Not only do these examples show how engaged journalism can be employed as a method for addressing and untangling difficult problems facing a community, they also demonstrate how it can be used in times of crisis to engage people in finding solutions.

In Georgia, both Chai Khana and OC Media are investing in training to upskill a new generation of journalists in the South Caucasus, in order to combat the lack of independent journalists in the region, as well as to bring journalists from different areas together in the context of ongoing conflict. These examples show how engagement activities can help strengthen and diversify independent journalism, so that it’s better positioned to tackle and solve wider societal issues.

At the EJC, we see engaged journalism as being essential in enabling people and communities to gather, share, understand and use information, and we are grateful to Open Society Foundations for providing us with support to expand our knowledge of community-driven journalism in Europe.

The learnings we have gathered through the Engaged Journalism Accelerator between 2018 and 2020 have shaped, and will continue to shape, future EJC initiatives: for example, we used the five ingredients of resilient community-driven journalism to develop the Endurance Fund track of the European Journalism COVID-19 Support Fund. The 14 news organisations selected through the Endurance Fund have used the grants to pivot and adapt their business models during the COVID-19 crisis, by investing in internal skills development, implementing reader revenue models, and further developing pathways for their communities to participate in their journalism. This will not only enable them to safeguard their work and existence, but also to better serve the information needs of their communities through this pandemic and potential future crises.

The European Journalism Centre is working toward a future where quality, independent, innovative and sustainable journalism helps people make the best possible decisions about their lives, communities, societies, and governments in Europe. Journalism is necessary to enhance debate, foster active democratic participation and hold the powerful to account, and engaged journalism is and will continue to be a big part of that going forward.


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