At the heart of this initiative lies the concept of audience engagement. The ten grant recipients from Balkan and Visegrad countries directly involved their communities in the storytelling process, utilising an audience-engagement digital tool developed by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.
“The audience-engaged tool was a very positive and useful way of letting people be heard and finding out what’s important to them,” Budapest-based Atlatszo testified. They used BIRN’s platform to collect personal health information from hundreds of patients, revealing the existence of unofficial waiting lists in Hungary – a concerning crisis in the country’s healthcare system.
Through innovative methods such as crowdsourcing personal experiences, data, photos and engaging with sensitive communities, the media outlets have produced impactful investigative stories. The collaborative effort has resulted in numerous successful narratives that shed light on critical issues affecting their local and regional communities.
Srebrenica-based UPS sought to understand the unemployment challenges faced by young people in a small local community devastated by high rates of youth emigration. They turned to crowdsourcing personal experiences, echoing the approach taken by the Kujto Foundation, which used human stories and institutional confrontations to expose Albania’s neglect of the missing persons issue during the communist regime – a three-decade-long silence that left families to search for their loved ones’ remains on their own.
The investigative approaches employed in these initiatives have shown exceptional effectiveness in engaging communities on important issues and shedding light on matters of significance to them.
In Skopje, Lice v Lice reached out to women victims of domestic violence, with the aim of influencing decision-makers to improve protection. Kosovo 2.0 delved deep into the subject of revenge porn, a topic that increasingly affects women. Montenegro’s Roditelji collected thousands of testimonies from women who had experienced obstetric violence, amplifying the voices of women who “are not heard”. “The project encouraged a large number of women to speak about their experience,” said the journalists of Roditelji.
The Audience Engaged Grants project is designed to encourage media outlets to engage diverse audiences, with a particular focus on women, youth, and minorities. Vis and Oko engaged with youngsters in Serbia and North Macedonia to uncover the problem of school violence in the online world, casting a spotlight on this concerning issue in the region. “TV Channel VIS reached more young audience on social media profiles, and awareness for our media outlet grew among young people,” said the TV VIS journalists from Strumica, North Macedonia.
Subotica-based Subotičke and Prague-based Romea involved the Roma community in their reporting to combat prevalent stereotypes. “We have seen a strengthening bond with the Roma community, fostering mutual understanding and trust,” said Subotičke.
Romea journalists received audience suggestions through BIRN’s tools, contributing to their award-winning show, “Desetminutovka puls”, while investigating inequalities in Roma representation in the Czech media. The Romea TV show featured ten Roma characters in order to provide a counter-narrative to prevailing stereotypes about the community.
To empower these outlets to effectively tell their stories, the participants received funding for their individual or cross-border story, access to the audience-engaged tool and four days of training. They also were assigned a BIRN mentor to work closely with them on story development.
Launched on June 1, 2022, “Media Innovation Europe: Energizing the European Media Ecosystem” is a two-year program led by the Vienna-based International Press Institute, IPI. The consortium brings together the Berlin-based Thomson Foundation, the Kyiv-based Media Development Foundation, MDF, and BIRN.
During the first cycle of the Audience Engaged Journalism grants run by BIRN, more than 30 journalistic products were made, including podcasts, investigative articles and radio and television shows.
As the first cycle project concludes, the broader impact of the stories created by the grantees will continue to resonate, promising a more informed future for both media and their audience.