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         Ukraine media fighting to survive           

For ways to support Ukrainian journalists, press here

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Ukraine media verify, make sense
of news, help keep people from despair

 

"The country needs weapons to defend itself, and the media need to be able to support journalists

so they can continue to work,”  a Ukrainian publisher told Greg Piechota of the International News Media Association. Publishers Oleksandr Chovhan and Oleg Horobets share their

thoughts on the current media landscape in Ukraine.  Chovhan is the chairman of the 

Association of Independent Regional Publishers of Ukrainewhich represents 20 publishers across

Ukraine, with 100 local news brands. Horobets is the CEO of RIA Media, a local news publisher

based in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine which publishes four newspapers and employs 48 journalists.

Greg Piechota: Firstly, may I ask how are you, guys, holding up? Where are you? Are you safe?

Oleksandr Chovhan: I am in Vinnytsia. I sent my family abroad, and they are now in a refugee camp. Never in my life I thought my family would be war refugees, but it is what is. 

Piechota: How are the Ukrainian media holding up? Are all of the 100 newspapers and sites associated with AIRPU live?

Chovhan: Yes, all publishers are up and running. People are very passionate, but the problem is they won’t work long fed only by passion. The revenues from advertising and copy sales went down to zero overnight.

Most newspapers stopped printing. There is no newsprint supply, and the distribution network has shut down. 

Piechota: If there is no printed press anymore, where do Ukrainians get their news? 

Chovhan: Web sites and social networks are working fine. The best news coverage right now is on Telegram [a social network] and on television.

All major TV companies united and broadcast one newscast across all the channels. Journalists from different channels stopped competing and are working on this one news product. The quality is very high. Everybody watches it.

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Iryna Shevchuk, a reporter for Kazatin.com, works in a bomb shelter together with her 5-year-old daughter Veronika. INMA photo.

Piechota: You mentioned Telegram is another source of the best coverage. Whose channels do you follow?

Chovhan: There are many channels: by the media, by the government, and by individual journalists. It’s partly professional and partly user-generated content. In our city, even the emergency sirens were replaced by Telegram notifications.

Horobets: Telegram is the people’s home page. When there are links, people can, of course, continue reading articles on publishers’ Web sites.

Before the war started, the Telegram channel of our “20 Khvilin” newspaper had 1,000 followers. Today it has 10,000 followers. Before the war, our Web site was generating 50,000 daily page views. Today it is 100,000. 

Piechota: What news and information people are looking for?

Horobets: The most-read content today is community announcements. People in Vinnytsia formed dozens of volunteering groups, which collect the goods and provide services for the city’s self-defense, the wounded, and refugees: bulletproof vests, boots, food, medicines, rides from one place to another. People announce what they have or can do, and others announce what they are looking for. They match up online.

Secondly, people seek verified news about the war’s development in their city, their region, and the country. 

Thirdly, people are looking for updates about any changes to everyday life. Public transport schedules changed completely. Drinking water is delivered only at certain times. Shops open just for a few hours, and many goods are missing. There are problems with card payments. Fuel and medicines are running out.

Chovhan: Many people are following the president, [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy. His media team is broadcasting daily news shows on Telegram. 

It’s not propaganda. It’s fact-based coverage, honest and straightforward, but also humourous. For example, the government ordered the removal of road signs and landmarks to help disorientate Russian troops, and now many direct them to “go f*** themselves.” 

During World War II, the war chronicles were dead serious and solemn, and now they are entertaining while informative. The war is a show — horrific but also in some odd way funny. Humour helps to release the tension of the nation. Zelenskyy is making people fear less.

Piechota: We see two wars unfolding in Ukraine: one is the military invasion, the other is the information war. What role do you see for the independent news outlets? 

Horobets: Verification of information is the single most important job for journalists today. We are flooded with fake news, and we need to help people show what is a fact and what is not. 

Making sense of the news — summaries and analysis — is the second most important job. News coverage on Telegram and news sites is very fragmented. Major channels release thousands of notifications every day. Literally, my phone buzzes every minute. The news media needs to filter and provide a bigger picture to audiences. I think this applies not only to Ukrainian but also foreign media.

The third job of journalists is to keep people away from despair. We need to show them not only all the bad news but keep balance and show that the country still works. Authorities work. Soldiers fight. There are heroes, and there are successes. 

The fact that media outlets still send messages is important, too. When people get an alert from Ukrainska Pravda [in English, Ukrainian Truth, the major national outlet] or their local newspaper, they know the country and the city still holds. “Ukraine has not perished yet.” [It’s the first verse of the Ukrainian anthem.].

But even if Vinnytsia falls and Ukraine falls, we will continue publishing. We’ll go underground, or we will publish online from abroad. We will publish forever. 

Piechota: Many Western publishers are looking for ways to support Ukrainian media and journalists. What help is most needed today?

Horobets: We are facing many challenges. The cities face electricity blackouts and the publishers’ servers may go down quickly. Our back-up generators can keep the servers up for two days and that’s it. 

We appealed to the Western tech companies to help us move the Web sites to the cloud, and thanks to our media colleagues from all over the world we got connected with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. All of them responded quickly and offered help. This problem is now being resolved.

Chovhan: One thing, though: The Russian government is trying to intimidate Western tech companies and make them block the Ukrainian Web sites. 

For example, our member in Odessa, Odesskaya Zhyzn [in English, Odessa Life], received a warning from a German hosting provider to stop spreading “false messages” or face a take-down. Germans acted on a complaint filed by the Russian Prosecutor General. Basically, Russians are trying to censor the war coverage in Ukraine using the Western hands. It’s outrageous! 

The access to safe data servers in the West is critical for the survival of the free press in Ukraine. Tech companies cannot assist Russians in terrorizing Ukrainian publishers.

Piechota: Anything else we can do?

Chovhan: The best way the West could help Ukrainian media is to help us pay salaries to journalists. An average monthly salary of a local journalist in Ukraine is just €400, but as publishers have no revenue, they won’t be able to keep the staff. We are not oligarchs. We don’t have dollars stashed in the basement. We don’t need more training from the West. We know how to do journalism and how to stay safe. The country needs weapons to defend itself, and the media need to be able to feed journalists so they can continue reporting.

 

Want to help Ukrainian media?

 Donate to the Association of Independent Regional Publishers of Ukraine via Patreon, or connect directly with Oksana Brovko, CEO of the association at brovko.oksana@gmail.com.

• If you’d like to team up with Western publishers that organise institutional and individual support for Ukrainian media, contact Joanna Krawczyk of the Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation in Poland at joanna.krawczyk@agora.pl. They coordinate with publishers, journalism associations, and foundations across Europe.

Greg Piechota is researcher-in-residence and Readers First Initiative lead for the International News Media Association (INMA). He can be reached at grzegorz.piechota@inma.org.

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Journalists run for cover during heavy shelling in Irpin near Kyiv. Reuters photo by Carlos Barria.

 

Why a free press matters

now more than ever

Around the world, authoritarian governments are seeking to extinguish free expression and dissent. We're doing what we can to help journalists do their jobs and protect their rights.

Threats to democracy are growing daily around the world . From Hong Kong to Belarus, governments around the world are seeking  to extinguish the very freedoms guaranteed by the United Nations' Universal Declaration on Human Rights. An informed populace is freedom's last best hope.

The World Free Press Institute is a California-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization formed in 1997.  We work to improve, support and strengthen a free press in its role as a government watchdog  and opponent of tyranny around the world.

 

Our goal is the education of students and working journalists in the skills needed to maintain independence and credibility in a free-market economy, and especially in communicating cultural heritage issues.

 

We offer training programs, on-site assistance, and expertise in media business and management issues. We also provide a wide variety of journalism skill programs ranging from basic reporting and editing to sophisticated specialty reporting techniques in all areas of traditional and new media. 

Funding for our programs has been provided by UNESCO, the Ford Foundation, the Eurasia Foundation, the Upjohn Foundation, Friederich Ebert Stiftung, the National Geographic Society and private individuals who share our commitment to the free exchange of ideas and information.

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What we do

Training in fact-based reporting

We work with individual journalists and media organizations on a broad spectrum of training issues including fact-based reporting, critical media consumption skills, leadership training, capacity building, investigative reporting, environmental reporting and financial sustainability. We structure our programs to meet the needs and requests from journalism groups, and create programs using trainers from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

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Free press support

Journalists in repressive countries are often isolated, prevented from sharing their thoughts and insights by repressive governments. Our programs bring together bright journalists to learn from each other and make connections that can be invaluable in repressive countries.



Pictured: Tatiana Repkova, WFPI, Slovakia, and Lawrence Mute, a constitutional law expert in Nairobi.

Specialized reporting

Journalism organizations request the types of training they feel would most benefit them, and we assemble experts in that field to provide training. In one case our program focused on environmental reporting for journalists near the failed Chernobyl nuclear reactor. In another, we brought together journalists from neighboring African countries at war with each other to discuss peace reporting. We host workshops in journalism ethics and ways basic principles can be adapted to fact-based local reporting.

In photo, Sam Mbure of the Network for the Defence of Media in Africa hosts a panel discussion.

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Encouraging empowerment

Irene Bwire of the Tanzania Media Women's Organization and Gail Talma of the Seychelles Press Association find common ground at a workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Evaluations of the programs showed journalists felt the relationships and shared insights were valuable

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Our programs

In the past two decades our programs have included  sponsoring meetings of journalists in regional centers across Belarus, university-sponsored programs in Hungary and the Czech Republic, and a UNESCO-sponsored symposium of journalists from 17 East African nations meeting together in Nairobi. We've produced programs for local journalists in Russia, Hong Kong, Egypt, Hungary, Uganda, Czech Republic and many other countries. We've learned that journalists speak a common language.

 

Belarus media support

In many countries, journalism is considered a crime. Reporters are hounded and editors jailed. We discuss ways reporters can protect themselves. In this photo, constitutional lawyer Mikhael Pastukhov and public defender Yuri Toporashev of the Belarussian Association of Journalists provide insights to reporters  in this seminar.

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East Africa  assembly

Kifle Mulat, president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association, describes the state of the media in his country.  Kifle has served multiple prison sentences for publishing an independent newspaper, as have many of his peers.

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Education & outreach

Often journalists in developing countries have not had access to journalism education programs. We see our mission as broadening perspectives on what is news and what audiences seek. In this photo, WFPI trainer Marcia Parker prepares for a session on business and financial reporting.

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Management training

Every newsroom - even small ones - need an understanding of setting goals and laying the ground work to meet them. Competitive issues are a critical part of this planning and play a role in whether a news organization can be sustainable. Human resource problems can be devastating to a young company. We hold management symposia and encourage critical thinking.


In photo, newspaper editor Lullit Michel of Addis Ababa describes a branding strategy to strengthen her paper's competitive advantage. Less than two weeks later, her newspaper, the Daily Monitor, was shuttered by the government.

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Opportunities for networking

Being a journalist in an authoritarian environment can be a lonely calling. Opportunities to meet with peers and discuss challenges facing them can be extremely valuable. We attempt to bring talented journalists together to share their problems and solutions. Many reported meeting peers for the first time at the conference even though they lived and worked a short distance away.

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Tracking corruption

Many countries are not able to win financing from international banks or foundations if their country has a history of corruption. We have insights into how journalists can track money entering the country to see how it is spent. In this photo, investigative reporter Bob Porterfield, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, discusses overseas sources of information on grant funding and investment by foreign corporations and how that can be useful.

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Digital media

All of our trainers have experience in digital media, and in every program we discuss what has worked and what hasn't in the group's experience.

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Our mission

The World Free Press Institute is a California-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed in 1997. Our mission is to improve, support and strengthen a free press in its role as a government watchdog  and opponent of tyranny around the world.


Our goal is the disinterested education of students and working journalists in the skills needed to maintain independence and credibility in a free-market economy, and especially in communicating cultural heritage issues. We offer training programs, on-site assistance, and expertise in media business and management issues.


We also provide a wide variety of journalism skill programs ranging from basic reporting and editing to sophisticated specialty reporting techniques in all areas of traditional and new media. And through our Maya Archaeology Initiative we support cultural heritage education, protection of Maya antiquities, and biodiversity in the Guatemalan rainforest.


Funding for our programs has been provided by UNESCO, the Ford Foundation, the Eurasia Foundation, the Upjohn Foundation, Friederich Ebert Stiftung, the National Geographic Society and private individuals who share our commitment to the free exchange of ideas and information.

The people behind WFPI

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President, World Free Press Institute

Clay Haswell

A reporter, editor and media executive for more than 40 years, Clay was managing director of the Associated Press for Asia and the Pacific. Previously, he was AP bureau chief for California and Nevada, and also worked for the Australian, the Christchurch (NZ) Press, the Anchorage (AK)  Daily News and the Contra Costa Times. After leaving the AP he was CEO of a company that built social networking platforms for students in Asia.

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Our story

We began working together in 1997 when several major foundations asked us separately to provide training for journalists in Central Europe. After collaborating on several projects, we  decided be more efficient if we worked together.  For two decades we worked together on international training programs, augmenting our efforts with expertise from local journalism professionals.

We've had success getting grants from multiple organizations to support our programs. We've learned from experience how to relate to journalists from different backgrounds and traditions.

But careers intervened.

We were at points in our professional lives when promotions and increased management responsibilities overtook our ability to collaborate on projects. Postings to opposite ends of the earth took us out of proximity. 

Now, with more time of our own, we continue to be committed to making free expression not an ideal but a reality. We continue to believe we can help journalists in need of support.


After a hiatus, we decided to resume our efforts and share whatever we can with aspiring journalists.

In photo, Saminya Bounou of Comoros accepts a diploma for completing a training program.

 
 
 
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Inside a WFPI seminar

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Getting together as program begins

An informal cocktail party breaks the ice as a seminar begins.

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Program leaders from different backgrounds collaborate

At the start of a program in Nairobi, trainers Patricia Made of Zimbabwe and Tatiana Repkova of Slovakia discuss presentations on HIV / AIDS coverage.

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Learning from each other

Divided into teams, journalists discuss environmental reporting in the so-called Chernobyl dead zone at a conference in Gomel, Belarus to address ethical questions and coverage ideas.

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A time for celebration, reflection and goodbyes 

At the conclusion of a program in Nairobi  sponsored jointly by the Ford Foundation and UNESCO, participants get together for a group photo.

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

- Article 19,  United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights



“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy,
it is democracy.”


- Walter Cronkite

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Get in touch with World Free Press Institute to learn more about our work and how we can work together.

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