BIRN Panelists Discuss Strategies to Rebuild Trust in Media

Some 20 international experts discussed approaches to rebuilding trust in journalism and alternative models of financing media on day two of BIRN’s digital media conference in Macedonia.

On the second day of BIRN’s international digital media conference in Ohrid, Macedonia, more than 20 experts took part in panel discussions and workshops exploring how media outlets can achieve sustainability in today’s digital world, focusing on trust in journalism and on its financing models.

The conference, titled “Digital media: Quest for Sustainability”, was supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with Dutch ambassador to Serbia Henk van den Dool delivering the opening address of the day, stressing that “media literacy is crucial.”

He also highlighted the importance of holding an event to discuss the state of digital media at a time when, for the seventh year in a row, worldwide internet freedom is on the decline.

During the first panel of the day, journalists from around the region discussed the current lack of trust in journalists and the media, and the ways in which publishers are trying to rebuild it.

“Journalists fear editors, editors are afraid of owners, media owners are scared of politicians, that’s the vicious cycle,” said Biljana Sekulovska, editor at Macedonian national broadcaster Nova TV.

Fellow panelist, BIRN Serbia Editor Slobodan Georgiev, claimed that “it looks like it has never been easier to be a journalist and at the same time it has never been harder to be a journalist.”

They were joined by Leila Bicakcic, the director of the Bosnian Center for Investigative Reporting, who also stressed that in terms of rebuilding trust in journalists, much of it comes down to the responsibility of the media itself.

“Lack of professional standards is an individual thing. We [media outlets] have to look at ourselves and how we can do better,” she said.

Separate panels also explored two media success stories; the founder of Serbian news site Juzne Vesti, Vitomir Ognjanovic, credited his outlet’s ability to given regional stories national appeal for their growth.

Meanwhile, Aleksandar Manasiev from Macedonian web portal Vidi vaka said that their focus on choosing underreported stories and combining them with short-form video production had extended their reach among the digital generation.

A special panel dedicated to marketing agencies was also presented, with the discussion focused on their role in working with digital publishers and promoting content online.

“The most important thing for us is to have media that publishes relevant and authentic content. Clicks are not enough,” said Ira Babic from Macedonian marketing agency Brand Union.

Leading a workshop during the event, co-founder of Dutch investigative outlet Follow the Money, Arne van der Wal, shared his belief that at a time when fast journalism is demanded, there remains value in taking time to produce quality content.

“It’s better to do one good story than five bad stories,” he stressed.

The two final panels of the day, wo other panels on how TV magazines can maintain editorial independence and on fact-checking concluded the day.

In the latter, Bardhyl Jashari, the Director of Macedonia’s Metamorphosis Foundation, stressed that the focus of their fact-checking is not on the media, but on the citizens to recognise propaganda.

BIRN’s conference ended on Sunday with a closing ceremony summarising the key points made over the two days prior.

Experts Discuss Balkan Media Sustainability at BIRN Conference

The first day of a BIRN Macedonia conference on media sustainability heard a number of speakers exchanging ideas and best practices.

Digital media in the Balkans can be sustainable, but probably won’t be any time soon, speakers on the first day of BIRN’s conference “Digital Media: Quest for sustainability”, in Ohrid, Macedonia, said.

Ideas, suggestions and ways to improve digital media sustainability in the region were brought up by various speakers.

Local media professionals, meanwhile, said they were not overly optimistic about becoming self-sustainable, but understand the need to achieve this at some point.

The first day of the two-and-a-half-day event, which is supported by Kingdom of the Netherlands, brought together representatives of the media, journalism associations, advertising and social media experts, as well as start-ups.

They exchanged experiences about best practices, developing cooperation and providing insight into a question that has troubled the global media industry for the past decade: how to achieve sustainability.

The opening remarks were made by BIRN Macedonia’s director, Ana Petruseva, and by the Ambassador of The Netherlands to Macedonia, Wouter Plomp.

“Not all the media have to be sustainable, but quality media outlets should be,” said Plomp.

In the first session, “Is there a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge of media sustainability?” views were shared by Goran Mihajlovski, from the web portal, Pavle Zlatic, from Irex, Serbia, Elvira Jukic from the Media Centre, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and by Eraldin Fazliu, from Prishtina Insight, Kosovo, as well as by members of the audience.

Speakers said sustainability for the quality media remains a big challenge in the region, given the small size of markets, low advertising rates, political pressures and other reasons.

However, models that can be adopted, developed and implemented include crowdfunding, connecting with communities and improving the quality of media content.

Ivica Penic, of the Grow up Academy, spoke about using social media to find the best customers.

He broadcasted his presentation live on Facebook. One of his key points was that the time is over when all content could be offered to everybody at the same time.

“The currency is attention. You cannot share all content with everybody. Content is the king, distribution is the queen. Fun, interesting, useful. That’s the content that we’re looking for. Smartphones are no longer devices, but extensions of us,” Penic said.

Spreading “fake” news and propaganda through social media was also one of the topics, addressed by Andrej Petrovski, of the Share Foundation.

He said the ability of agencies to serve people tailor-made content based on their psychological profiles gives them power to control the system.

“The creators of fake news and propaganda know that media-literate people won’t believe them, but they also know that there are others that will,” he added.

Igor Trajkovski, from the first and biggest news aggregator,, spoke about how the media can advance their ranking online.

He said there are four basic rules to follow: publish unique content, pay attention to the first paragraph of the story, use proper names, and publish fast and update.

Nina Angelovska and Zarko Dimitroski were speakers on the panel on how young people can create successful business models; both have been recognized by Forbes as young entrepreneurs.

They shared their experience on building their start-up projects “Grouper” and “Eden na eden”, and on how they built well-recognized brands.

Arne van der Wal shared his experience with the brand “Follow the money”, and spoke about how good content can make money.

“Build strong relations with the audience, make them members instead of subscribers, and sell a mission instead of a product,” he said.

Fighting irregular competition remains a challenge, as newsrooms lose audiences and market shares to one-person websites stealing and republishing their content.

“The fake media, the noisemakers, are creating a lot of trouble in the media field and need to be regulated,” said Katerina Sinadinovska, from the Media Ethics Council.

“Small, brave websites depend on taking content from others and are good for distributing the information to larger audiences,” said Srdjan Puhalo, a journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The conference continues with panels, case studies and workshops related to media sustainability.

The speakers and the guests will discuss rebuilding trust in the media, attracting the attention of advertisers and making money from investigating journalism without jeopardizing standards.

BIRN to Host Conference on Media Sustainability

BIRN Macedonia conference aims to explore both the opportunities and challenges for the digital media in a hyper-competitive age, marked by the exponential rise of social media.

Between October 18 and 21, in Ohrid, BIRN Macedonia will bring together representatives of the media, journalism associations, advertising and social media experts, as well as start-ups, to exchange experiences of best practices, develop cooperation and provide insight into a question that has troubled the global media industry for the past decade: how to achieve sustainability.

The two-and-a-half-day event, which is supported by Kingdom of the Netherlands, and includes panels, case studies and workshops, aims to look at both the opportunities and challenges for the digital media in a hyper-competitive age.

Is there a one-size-fits-all model for the media? What business examples have succeeded and what models have failed? What can we learn from algorithms and news aggregation? How can media improve their content with different platforms and so engage wider audiences?

In the past years, the number of online media has exploded in the Balkans, with new sites emerging almost daily. At the same time, as social media take the lead, professional media are losing the battle to reach audiences.

As a result, most higher quality media content is lost in the noise created by tabloids, propaganda, so-called fake news and copy-paste items, which feed readers with poor content and lack critical thinking, accountability and transparency – in turn increasing distrust in the media.

Digital media in the Balkans have responded poorly to the new challenges of the “post-truth” era, and to the rise of echo chambers and misinformation, sticking to traditional tools instead of innovation.

Successful start-up entrepreneurs will share their personal stories and discuss how to open a start-up company, the likely impact of media start-ups, the potential for development of the media in the interactive digital space, and the potential for mergers of IT and media.

Speakers from the Balkans, but also from The Netherlands and other countries, will share tips and ideas on the strengths and weaknesses of different business models for media.

Among the questions they will address will be: what are the advantages of the subscription model versus membership, what advertisers want and how they identify their audiences – and what chances do “niche” media have in the region?

Click here to see the full agenda for the ‘Digital Media: Quest for Sustainability’ conference.

BIRN to Help Boost Public Oversight of Kosovo Institutions

BIRN Kosovo has signed a cooperation agreement with a local think tank and the tax authority to increase public oversight and accountability of Kosovo’s public institutions.

BIRN Kosovo signed a memorandum of understanding with Pristina-based think tank Democracy Plus and the Tax Administration of Kosovo, TAK, on Wednesday as part of a project funded by the British embassy in Kosovo to boost public oversight and accountability of public institutions.

Through the cooperation agreement, BIRN, Democracy Plus and TAK aim to increase the overview that the civil society has of tax administration processes, in order to increase the compliance of public institutions.

In its 2018 Country Report on Kosovo, the EU highlighted the ongoing issues of the informal economy and tax evasion in Kosovo, urging for these to be dealt with.

In light of this, the UK-funded project is intended to help tackle these issues and bolster the fight against corruption in Kosovo.

Over the next three years, BIRN and its project partners will seek to establish policies and practices crucial to good governance and address them to compatible authorities.

BIRN Holds Investigative Journalism Training for Public Broadcasters

Thirteen journalists from public broadcasters in the Western Balkans met in Belgrade on Friday for the start of an investigative reporting workshop organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.

A three-day regional investigative reporting workshop for journalists from public broadcasters in the Western Balkans, organised by BIRN Hub, started in Belgrade on Friday with a visit to Radio Television of Serbia, RTS.

The workshop is a part of the project “Technical Assistance to Public Service Media in the Western Balkans”, financed by the European Union, which aims to revitalise the region’s public broadcasting sector and bring new confidence to the key stakeholders involved.

EU ambassador to Serbia Sem Fabrizi, who delivered the opening address of the training, highlighted that media freedom is of fundamental importance to a democratic society.

He noted that public service broadcasters play a special role in responding to public interest for information in today’s challenging media environment.

“The media landscape is changing – we now have social networks, fake news; these elements call into question the freedom of the media,” Fabrizi said, adding that public service broadcasters are crucial in today’s media sector.

Dragan Bujosevic, General Director of RTS, stated during his address at the opening ceremony, that he disagrees with the term investigative journalism, but for a specific reason:

“Journalism is always investigative… there is no other type,” he said.

BIRN Macedonia’s Director, Ana Petruseva, who was among the trainers for the workshop, noted: “We are seeing many challenges to investigative reporting today, and the role of public broadcasters is vitally important. Especially since we have less people in news rooms prepared to fight and look out for the public interest.”

She added that over the next three days, “we hope to give journalists tips, tricks and skills they can use to improve their reporting.”

Lead trainer Nils Hanson from the Swedish public broadcaster SVT said: “The need for investigative journalists has never been bigger than it is today,” stressing that “the work of an investigative journalist is very dangerous.”

He added that in Sweden there has been a revival of investigative journalism, with all TV stations having noticed that viewers demand it and are willing to pay for it.

The project, intended to train public broadcasters to produce increasingly pluralistic, independent and accountable content, is being led by the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, together with BIRN, the European Broadcasting Union, EBU, the European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, the Austrian Public Broadcaster, ORF, and the Eurovision News Exchange for South-East Europe, ERNO.

Journalists Trained for Data Journalism in Montenegro

BIRN, CIN Montenegro and Monitor magazine organised a training course on data journalism for Montenegrin journalists on October 10 and 11 in Podgorica.

The training was held as part of the project Media Investigations: Stop to READ (Regional Environmental Acts of Devastation) which aims to strengthen investigative reporting in Montenegro.

Training topics included national and international databases and registries, their importance in investigative journalism and practical instructions on how to gather data and how to use them for writing stories; freedom of information laws and how to obtain data using them; tips and tricks for browsing, and using social networks in data journalism.

The training was held by Milka Tadic-Mijovic (CIN Montenegro), Dusica Tomovic and Jelena Cosic (BIRN Hub), and Slobodan Georgiev (BIRN Serbia).

The project was funded by the EU Delegation in Podgorica.

BIRN Albania Opens Call for Organised Crime Investigations

BIRN Albania launched a call for investigative stories on organised crime themes on October 10.

BIRN is offering grants for three journalists to cover organised crime stories, as well as mentoring by experienced editors.

The call is part of the project ‘Strengthening Media’s Role in the Fight Against Corruption’, financed by the Open Society Foundation in Albania.

The project’s aim is to strengthen reporting on corruption in the country through cooperation with civil society, in order to contribute to a more informed citizenry that is engaged in the democratic process.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while conducting investigations and writing their stories on organised crime.

The journalists will have around three months to dig deeper and research their ideas, and will also have the opportunity to work with experienced editors as mentors to guide them through the process of writing in accordance with BIRN standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closes on October 30.

Click here for more information (in Albanian) about the application procedure.

Click here  to download the application (in Albanian).

BIRN Kosovo Holds Prevention of Violent Extremism Training

BIRN Kosovo held a training course for law students in Ferizaj, Kosovo, on October 5 entitled ‘Forms of Violent Extremism and Reporting on Terrorism Cases’.

Key speakers were Drita Hajdari, prosecutor at the Kosovo Special Prosecution, and Kreshnik Gashi, editor of the TV programme, Justice in Kosovo. It was held at AAB College in Ferizaj.

The course aimed to give students the opportunity to discuss cases in which young people from Kosovo were involved in terrorism and terrorist groups, as well as to find out how to prevent radicalisation.

Hajdari and Gashi engaged in an in-depth conversation with the participants and addressed questions on terrorism in Kosovo and methods of reporting cases of terrorism.

Hajdari said that the prosecution, within the framework of the national strategy on the prevention of violent extremism and radicalisation that leads to terrorism, is doing a lot of work on countering terrorism.

She called for a greater cooperation from young people in reporting suspected cases of radicalisaton.

Gashi said that the media in Kosovo is doing its best in reporting cases through investigations. He also noted that the impact of media in combating terrorism is crucial, so outlets must take care not to publish unreliable or false news that misinforms the population.

This course was organised as part of the project ‘With Participatory Democracy for a Kosovo without Radicalization’, funded by the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, GCERF.

BIRN Kosovo is planning to organise similar events in Pristina, Mitrovica, Gjilan and Kacanik.


BIRN Kosovo’s Human Rights Awards Announced

On October 4, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Kosovo, in cooperation with The Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture (ACDC), presented awards for three best journalistic pieces on TV, print or online media as part of its Human Rights Reporting Award Competition.

The initiative is intended to boost the coverage of human rights issues and help to set new standards for media reporting in the sphere.

Venera Cocaj and Matko Bulent won the first prize for a story that dealt with one of the least discussed topics in the country and concerned one of the most marginalised groups, the LGBT community, in a documentary “The Sky is Turning” produced by Kosovo 2.0.

Adriana Thaci-Mehmeti from KTV won second prize for a story about the rights of elderly people within the family and in retirement homes.

Besa Kalaja from PreportR and Kaltrina Rexhepi from RTK shared the third prize. Kalaja’s story dealt with the lack of institutional care for the elderly, while Rexhepi created a documentary that looks into the issue of early marriages.

BIRN Kosovo Holds Discussion on Ombudsperson’s Role

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Kosovo and the Centre for Advocacy Democracy and Culture, ACDC, organised a discussion in Peja/Pec on October 2 about the role of the Ombudsperson with regards to issues of public interest.

This discussion was held as a part of the OmbudsWatch project, which aims to educate the public about the role and responsibilities of the Ombudsperson, as well as about their right to contact the Ombudsperson’s office about matters of public importance.

The discussion, which took place at the Jusuf Gërvalla cinema in Peja/Pec, was attended by students, journalists and civil society activists.

The key speakers were Kreshnik Gashi, editor and moderator of the TV programme Justice in Kosovo, and Meral Tejeci, senior legal advisor at the Ombudsperson’s office.

Both Gashi and Tejeci, addressed the legal obligations of the Ombudsperson to respond to citizens’ requests, the functions of the Ombudsperson’s office, people’s legal rights to submit complaints, and access to public documents, among other issues.

The discussion was the last to take place in the framework of the OmbudsWatch project, and participants were given pamphlets as a guide to making enquiries at the Ombudsperson’s office.