Meet the People Behind BIRN: Nicholas Watson

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For June, meet Nicholas Watson, editor of Reporting Democracy.

Nicholas, 55, has been in journalism for more than 30 years. He started his carrier in Japan and continued in New York, London, Rome and Prague, where he has lived for the past 20 years.

As editor of Reporting Democracy, BIRN’s cross-border journalistic platform dedicated to exploring where democracy is headed across large parts of Europe, Nicholas says that journalism still excites him.

He is particularly keen to highlight Reporting Democracy’s new Travel and Reporting Programme for journalists, teams and media organisations from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

“I hope many aspiring or established journalists will take the opportunity to apply for these grants and, to paraphrase George Orwell, ‘print what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations’,” he says.

How did you start your career in journalism? 

I was actually teaching English as a foreign language in Hiroshima, Japan in the early 1990s when I was given a chance to write for a Tokyo-based international travel magazine, covering destinations, culture etc in the Far East. Through this I won the Pacific-Asia Travel Association’s (PATA) Grand Travel Story Award for 1993 for a story I did on Sumo wrestling and have never really looked back. I shifted my focus to hard news with a move to a global newswire a few years later, which took me from Tokyo to New York as a correspondent, then to London and Rome, followed by the Czech Republic about 20 years ago, where I’ve remained ever since.

When did you join BIRN and the Reporting Democracy project?

I joined BIRN in August 2020. I’d actually taken a break from journalism for a couple of years after selling my publication with my business partner at the time. I’d been doing some research and consultancy work in the interim, but it didn’t really excite me in the same way that the news business had, so when I was afforded the opportunity to get back into it with BIRN’s Reporting Democracy it was a great chance. The fact RD promotes freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values through investigations, features, analysis and interviews is what it makes it all the better – I’m honoured that they picked me to lead the network at such a crucial time for the region.

The news business can feel very cyclical, it waxes and wanes. When there’s lots of stories about and everyone is keen to write about them, it fills you with energy and hope. However, inevitably there are ‘down’ times, when there seems a dearth of stories to pursue, the stories don’t flow like they once had, there’s a feeling of discouragement in the air, and it can feel a little demotivating. It’s important to always remember the next big story is just around the corner. It’s important to stay positive, keep talking to people, keep looking into things – the stories are there, perhaps just a bit harder to find at times, and you need to dig a little deeper.

Can you choose one of your favourite reports, analysis pieces or investigations that really made a difference?

I would pick our series of pieces on the right-wing Polish government’s attempt to rally support in the region for replacing the Istanbul Convention (which attempts to combat violence against women) with an alternative treaty that aims to ban abortion and homosexual marriage, as really important. Led by Claudia Ciobanu, RD’s Poland correspondent, our people in the region found that the Polish Justice Ministry

had sent letters to at least four governments in the region (Croatia, Czechia, Slovakia and Slovenia) outlining their alternative treaty, which seemed to be based on an international family rights convention prepared by the Christian conservative Ordo Iuris Institute in cooperation with former Polish MEP Marek Jurek from the Christian Social Congress. This was an underhand, secretive attempt by one government in the region to undermine women’s rights elsewhere in the region that we exposed. Another important cross-border story we pursued included the opposition to the COVID-19 vaccination drives in CEE from a growing anti-vaccination movement that was being backed by the most conservative elements in the churches of the region.

Why did you decide to design and implement this new program? What do you want to achieve with the new Travel and Reporting Programme? 

Problems in countries tend to have their own characteristics but are usually universal: discrimination, oppression, misogyny, corruption, populism. As a journalist, it’s always important not to remain in your silo, but to explore how these problems manifest themselves in other parts of the world. Yet spending time abroad and reporting in-depth takes time and money. So, it is with this aim of fostering journalistic cooperation and exchanges of information between regions, in this case Central and Southeast Europe, that we are making available these travel and reporting grants, regional expertise as well as field support in countries where BIRN has offices (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia).

What are Reporting Democracy’s next plans? 

We have exciting grant stories coming up, investigating the conditions in refugee camps in Poland; systematic reform of enforcement and insolvency legislation in the Czech Republic as many fall further into debt; and the ‘defamation law’ in Poland that threatens freedom of speech, restricts civil liberties and has a freezing effect on the free media. We also began a series of podcasts, VoiCEE, together with our partner Notes From Poland, which you can access here. We will hopefully be looking into doing more of such podcasts.



European collaboration to boost media experimentation and innovation

Introducing Media Innovation Europe, an ambitious initiative to energize the European ecosystem for independent and local journalism

  • The programme is run by the International Press Institute, Thomson Foundation, the Media Development Foundation and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network
  • It is open to news outlets in more than 35 countries in Europe, including EU member states, the Western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine
  • Support to media startups and established media in transition through accelerators and incubator programmes
  • Grants of up to €20,000 plus intensive cohort and one-on-one immersive training, mentoring and hackathons 
  • Access to industry leaders to help guide new journalism ideas, navigate new technology and adapt business models by deepening engagement with target audiences
  • Transition Accelerator, Deep-Dive Business Consultancies and Audience-Engaged Journalism Grant Scheme will launch their call for proposals in August 2022

From business consultancies and incubators to hackathons and accelerators, independent media outlets across Europe stand to benefit from a suite of opportunities offered under a bold new initiative designed to stimulate innovation, sustainable business models and collaboration.

Sign up for your Media Innovation Europe’s Newsletter here! 

Launched on 1 June 2022, Media Innovation Europe: Energizing the European Media Ecosystem is a two-year programme spearheaded by the IPI Global Network of editors, journalists, and media builders together with three non-profits committed to helping news organizations provide audiences with the independent journalism they need.

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 the Sarajevo-based Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

Together, they seek to empower media outlets as they navigate the digital transition, giving them the tools to align their journalistic products, business structures and means of discovery and distribution in a way that is audience-focused and sustainable.

“Through IPI’s network and our collaborating partners, Media Innovation Europe will transform media across the continent,” said Jacqui Park, IPI’s head of network strategy and innovation. “By mixing the global lessons of our network with the experimentations of some of the exciting new players and key innovators in  traditional media, it’s a key step in our shared journey to the new European media ecosystem.”

Responding to challenges

Supported by the European Commission, the initiative will pool the strengths of the consortium partners in mobilizing networks, running granting and mentoring programmes and supporting media innovation. Each has a deep understanding of the needs and challenges of European media at a time of transition.

“Professional and independent media need support and guidance towards modalities of operation that are more financially resilient to their unfriendly environments. We aim to encourage media outlets to think out of box, to design and test new business ideas and introduce new revenue streams. This could be done through two-way audience engagement, diversification of content and formats, as well as through side-businesses that relate to the core mission of beneficiary media,“ Davor Marko, Thomson Foundation manager for South East Europe and Central Europe. 

Media Innovation Europe aims to help news outlets overcome challenges ranging from broken business models and plummeting revenues to waning public trust, “state capture” of independent media and political pressures.

The programme recognises the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine  — not only in the immediate threats it poses to independent media in the country and region but also in the way the conflict aggravates pre-existing challenges.

“Being the most vulnerable to the fast-changing political and social environment, and by far the most challenged business sector, media often have to reserve their efforts for survival rather than development,” said Daryna Shevchenko, a member of the supervisory board of MDF, which will run “hackathons” as part of the programme. 

“Annual hackathon competitions are designed to create a safe space for media professionals to slow down, strategise, form long-term, cross-industry partnerships and make a leap in growth that they wouldn’t make otherwise.” 

By bringing together existing media and new players, the consortium believes partnerships created through Media Innovation Europe’s activities will contribute to a more innovative and sustainable ecosystem for European journalism.

Key activities 

Media Innovation Europe will roll out a variety of activities to meet the needs of the industry.

A six-month Transition Accelerator programme run by IPI and Deep-Dive Business Consultancies run by Thomson Foundation will offer targeted support to news organizations that are vital to media plurality in their region but may be struggling to survive.

These initiatives will draw on the rich experience of industry leaders from across Europe.

In addition, a six-month Emergent Incubator run by IPI will guide the launch and growth of promising media start-ups.

Teams accepted into the Transition Accelerator will be eligible for grants of up to €20,000 while teams accepted into the Emergent Incubator will be eligible for grants of up to €15,000. Grants of up to €10,000 will be available for outlets engaged with the business consultancy.

A Journalism Mentorship Scheme will also be on offer via IPI, linking media practitioners with one another to cover topics such as news product, audience strategies and business models.  

MDF’s annual hackathon competition will help participants come up with new ideas and solutions while offering opportunities for “radical collaboration” and exchange among media thinkers and builders from different backgrounds to help tackle journalism’s urgent challenges.

From each hackathon, three groups will get small grants to develop ideas and prototypes.

Meanwhile, BIRN will manage an audience-engaged journalism grant scheme to support innovative investigative journalism projects that embed audiences across the creative chain. 

“In a time of crisis, people turn to local news outlets to understand what’s happening,” BIRN Regional Director Marija Ristic said.

“And this was seen during the global pandemic when trust in local media increased. So the idea behind this project is to build upon that and use the power of tech to reach out to our audience and create content and coverage meaningful to our communities, that will not just be ‘for them’, but ‘with them’.” 

Participants of all the programmes will be selected by independent juries.

Networking opportunities

Media Innovation Europe is designed to take on a life of its own through its network. An annual summit will bring participants together and information hubs will distribute knowledge and best practices.

During the project and beyond, participants and other interested media entrepreneurs will have access to training tools and opportunities for exchanging ideas and building collaborations.

By sustaining a network of innovators, the initiative aims to be the first port of call for new and established media eager to challenge dated assumptions and transform Europe’s media landscape.

More details on each aspect of the project and the timing of calls for applications will follow shortly. 

Press contacts:

IPI: Ryan Powell, 

Thomson Foundation: Davor Marko,

MDF: Daryna Shevchenko,

BIRN Network: Aida Ajanovic,


BIRN’s Reporting Democracy Opens New Call for Travel and Reporting Programme

BIRN’s Reporting Democracy Travel & Reporting Programme is opening the call for journalists from the Visegrad region who have an interest on reporting from the Balkans to apply for the grant that covers expenses in the chosen field research.

Deadline for applications is June 30, 2022

Application for the grant:

Application for individual journalists and teams 


With the idea of fostering journalistic cooperation and exchanges of information between the two regions, we are providing travel and reporting grants, regional expertise as well as the field support in countries where BIRN has offices (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia).

Participation in the Travel & Reporting programme should result in the journalistic output published in the local media in applicant’s country, with the possibility of the content being republished on BIRN’s Reporting Democracy platform and in the local media in the Balkan region. By the journalistic output, we mean at least one in-depth article. Cross-border stories and serials of articles, as well as accompanying multimedia material (video, photo, radio /podcast) are encouraged.

General rules for call for applications:

Grants are available for journalists from Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia

Formal applicants can be:

  • individual journalist (working as part of newsroom structures as well as freelancers);
  • teams (e.g. reporter, producer, photographer, video editor);
  • media organisation.

A maximum of 5 grants will be awarded in this cycle

Amount of grant: EUR 2,500.00

Deadline for applications: June 30, 2022

Deadline for completion of the grant is December 31, 2022

Each applicant may submit only one application under this grant scheme.

Applications should include:

  • topic(s) that journalists would like to report about;
  • plans for visiting one or more countries of the Balkan region, with tentative timeline;
  • publishing and dissemination plan.

Eligible expenses include:

  • fees;
  • travel;
  • accommodation;
  • subsistence during the field work;
  • various production costs (translation, fixers, photographer, etc);

How to apply:

Applicants should use application form to apply for the Travel & Reporting programme. There are two types of application forms – for individual journalists and teams, and for media organisations.

Additional documentation can be submitted in the online format.

Application Form should be completed in English language.

Clarifications will only be requested when information provided is not sufficient to conduct an objective assessment.

The application must be submitted by 23:59 CET, on June 30, 2022 to the following address:

In case of additional inquires, please contact us.

Evaluation and selection:

Step I: Technical evaluation done by BIRN staff to ensure applicants followed application procedures and submitted all required documents.

Step II: Evaluation by editorial board will be done in order to select applicants based on evaluation criteria including:

  1. Quality of proposed idea;
  2. Feasibility of the proposed plan;
  3. Ability to reach public.

Step III: Notification of applicants.

Successful applicants will be notified by the end of July 2022.


BIRN Funds Projects to Research War Crime Case Archives

BIRN has awarded grants to 13 journalists, historians, artists and activists for projects exploring the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and domestic courts in ex-Yugoslav countries that dealt with war crimes cases.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network has selected 13 journalists, historians, artists and activists to receive grants to create small projects based on the archives of the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague and domestic courts in former Yugoslav countries.

The recipients of the grants will conduct research, collect documents and dig deeper into the courts’ archives in order to produce projects about issues of justice and the Yugoslav wars.

BIRN initially planned to fund ten small projects, but due to the large number of high-quality applications, decided to increase the number of grants and fund 13 grantees to explore court archives.

The projects will include journalistic pieces, educational workshops, research papers, a documentary film, audiovisual work and a visual project.

They will explore topics such as gender-based violence, memory, Roma war victims, witness testimonies, war crimes, sexual violence, the experience of women in war and the role of photography in prosecuting war crimes.

Nejra Mulaomerovic, programme associate at BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice programme, said that archives play an important role in ensuring that the past is properly documented.

“The archives themselves are not a guarantee of the non-recurrence of conflicts, but if they are used by various actors from different research and academic backgrounds, they can contribute to raising awareness and can be used as tools to spark dialogue and inspire others to continue their efforts to seek justice and truth,” Mulaomerovic said.

“With these grants, BIRN continues to support activists, artists, historians and journalists to increase knowledge about the role of archives in transitional justice processes,” she added.

The selected grantees will be working on the following projects:

Aline Cateux will research the cases of the Uborak and Sutina massacres and produce three journalistic articles.

Amer Alija will develop training and lectures for young journalists about how to research court archives for Kosovo war crimes.

Fortesa Kabashi will produce a research paper on Kosovo war victims’ testimonies at the Hague Tribunal related to sexual violence.

Hamza Karcic will explore the role of peace initiatives and mediators during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Kate Powers will examine the consistency of national courts when evaluating witness testimonies in war crimes prosecutions.

Kumjana Novakova will produce a short audiovisual work tracing women’s experiences of violence in wartime.

Ljupka Mandic will map places of suffering of Roma victims in Kosovo.

Medina Delalic will analyse court testimonies related to the 1991 meeting in Karadjordjevo between Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic.

Miodrag Kojadinovic will explore and analyse queer perspectives on the Hague Tribunal’s work.

Ron Haviv, Lauren Walsh and Srdjan Sarenac will produce a documentary telling the story of how one iconic photo of a war crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina created an impact in the quest for justice.

Sara Milenkovska will research the implications for reconciliation of gender-based violence in war crimes.

Selma Catovic Hughes will create a visual project exploring the topics of memory and time based on documented evidence, military reports and testimonies of the Sarajevo siege.

Una Sabljakovic will research the role of high-ranking Serbian State Security Officer Vasilije Mijovic and the Scorpions paramilitary group in the Yugoslav wars.

The grant scheme is a part of the Enhancing Accountability and Memorialisation Processes in the Balkans project, financed by the Matra Regional Rule of Law Programme, and is a part of BIRN’s Transitional Justice Programme, a regional initiative that aims to improve the general public’s understanding of transitional justice in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Eleni Stamatoukou

Eleni joined BIRN Hub in 2021 as a Communications Manager. She is a data journalist based in Athens, Greece.

She has worked for Greek and foreign media and the NGO SolidarityNow. She has covered a big range of issues: migration, refugee crisis, corruption, LGBTI and human rights, politics, business, sports, environment, health and culture.

Eleni is a Fellow of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Columbia Journalism School 2019.

Eleni has a BA in Balkan Studies from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece and an MA in Social Anthropology (Europe) from Sussex University, United Kingdom.

She speaks Greek, English, Turkish and Serbian.

Emilija Petreska

Emilija joined BIRN Hub in 2022 as a Social media Coordinator based in Skopje, North Macedonia.

She is responsible for development, quality control and implementation of programme-related and overall BIRN visibility actions using social networks.

For more than seven years she worked as a journalist in Radio MOF, covering topics related to education, environment and social issues. She was also part of Deutsche Welle’s Balkan Booster program for young journalists, where she was filming and editing short videos.

Emilija has received numerous awards for her work: first prize of the European Union Award for Investigative Journalism “Jean Monnet”; award for the best journalistic story  by the Delegation of the European Union in North Macedonia; the Jashar Erebara Award for Investigative Journalism by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia; third prize for Best Journalism Story in the Field of Social Life awarded by the Media Ethics Council, as well as First prize for reporting on the refugee crisis, awarded by the Association of Young Lawyers, Association of Journalists of Macedonia and UNHCR.

Emilija graduated from the School of journalism and public relations in Skopje.

She speaks Macedonian, English and a bit of French.

Jovan Ilic

Based in Belgrade, Jovan is responsible for production of digital and social media content, developing new digital products and boosting the presence of BIRN Hub and its websites on a number of digital platforms.

Since 2018, he worked at Belgrade Pride as coordinator of Pride Info Center in Belgrade and as an organizer of Belgrade Pride until 2021. He also works as a LGBT+ party organizer and a DJ.

Jovan graduated from Middlesex University, England, in Audio Engineering.

He speaks Bosnian and English.

Karla Junicic

Karla joined BIRN in 2021 to coordinate work of local media outlets in the region who write investigative stories using the Engagement Citizens’ Reporting tool.

Before joining BIRN she wrote for VoxFeminae, and was part of the international affairs newsroom in Jutarnji list, Globus and Euractiv Croatia. Since 2020 she has been based in London as a correspondent.

After studying French and Russian literature at the University of Trieste, Karla decided to continue her Masters in Journalism at the Faculty of political sciences in Zagreb. Besides Croatian, she is fluent in Italian, English and French.

Milka Domanovic

Milka Domanovic has a strong professional background in journalism, fact-checking, research and project management.

She now works to identify new opportunities for BIRN’s growth, including different partnerships, development of cross-border projects, and expansion of its commercial services. She is based in Belgrade, Serbia.

Milka worked in different roles in BIRN since 2013, with some breaks, firstly as a journalist and translator for BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice initiative. After rejoining the network in 2019, she worked as a lead researcher, designing and implementing one of BIRN’s major projects, Media for All programme, carried out in six Balkan countries. She focused on engagement journalism, BIRN’s support for the local media in the region and development of new technologies that enable community engagement.

Prior to that, she worked for the fact checking portal Istinomer [Truth-o-meter], the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, CINS, Serbia’s public broadcaster, RTS, as well as a fixer for international media.

She was awarded a fellowship programme by the International Factchecking Network in 2017, which she spent with Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact. She also won a Chevening scholarship awarded by the UK government to complete her Master’s studies at the University of London in 2018/2019.

As a journalism student in 2008 and 2009, she won several professional awards for a radio feature “Medom protiv mraka“ [Teddy Bear Against the Dark], including the Zoran Mamula Award and the Golden Diploma of the INTERFER (International Reportage and Media Festival in Sombor, Serbia).

Milka has a diploma in journalism from the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade and an MSc in Marketing and Technology from Goldsmiths, University of London. She speaks Serbian and English, and some French and Macedonian.

Samir Kajosevic

Samir is based in Podgorica and covers stories from Montenegro as well as parts of regional investigative stories.

Previously, he worked as a journalist and editor at the Montenegrin daily newspaper Vijesti. In 2018, he became a correspondent for Balkan Insight.

He studied at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Belgrade and completed the Danish School of Journalism at Montenegro Media Institute.

Samir speaks Serbian, English and Albanian.