BIRN Wins Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Award

To mark World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, campaign group Reporters Without Borders Austria awarded the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network with its annual Press Freedom Award – A Signal for Europe.

The Vienna office of the Reporters Without Borders announced that the BIRN Network has been awarded for its courageous investigative journalism in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, and for its dedication to the fight for human rights, democracy and justice for the victims of war crimes.

The award also honours BIRN’s founder, Gordana Igric, who served as the organisation’s regional director until May 2018, for her pioneering work in establishing the network.

“We are honoured by this acknowledgment from our Austrian colleagues. It comes at a critical time for our region, where media are often hampered by political or business influences and lack the resources to report beyond their own country’s borders,” said BIRN’s network director, Marija Ristic.

“The award gives us more motivation to continue with our uncompromising reporting despite continuous attacks on our journalists,” Ristic added.

“We are also thankful for the honour given to our founder, Gordana Igric, who had a vision of a free regional media network and paved the way for a new generation of journalists and editors who continue to champion the values of human rights and democracy,” she said.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network was established in 2004 as a network of organisations across the Balkans promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values.

BIRN has country-based organisations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. It also works editorially in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.

BIRN’s structure has the advantage of combining local expertise with unique regional cooperation.

The Press Freedom Award – A Signal for Europe is given every year by the Austrian branch of Reporters Without Borders, a leading international non-profit and non-governmental organisation that safeguards the right to freedom of information. Its mandate is to promote free, independent and pluralistic journalism and to defend media workers.

BIRN Macedonia Journalist Wins Investigative Story Award

BIRN Macedonia’s story ‘Alive and Well: The Lucrative Business Club around REK Bitola’ by journalist Vlado Apostolov has been awarded best investigative story of the year 2019 by the Macedonian Media Institute, MIM.

The story, published in December 2019, revealed how the public procurement system is being abused by companies with connections to senior government officials in the highly profitable business of coal extraction for REK Bitola, the country’s biggest coal-fired power plant.

The BIRN story documented how the state loses millions of euros by hiring private companies to do the excavation instead of providing machinery equipment for REK Bitola, despite promises by the current ruling party, the Social Democrats, before the elections in 2016, when they were in opposition.

The story showed that not only was this pre-election promise not fulfilled, but the new companies joined the business ‘club’ around REK Bitola. A week after the story was published, the government held a press conference to announce a new procurement tender worth 19 million euros.

“The jury is highlighting that the journalist covered a topic of the utmost public interest, connected to non-transparent spending of budget funds. The jury also took into consideration that the publication of the story and the public reactions caused by it contributed to the decision made by the management of REK Bitola to start a procedure for procurement of its own coal mining equipment,” the award commission said.

The Macedonian Media Institute was giving the award for the best investigative story award for the 19th time. Since 2013, the award has been named after Nikola Mladenov, a prominent journalist and owner of Fokus magazine who died in a traffic accident.

BIRN Macedonia won the best investigative story award for the second time. It was first awarded in 2016 for its ‘Skopje 2014’ database, and in 2018 won second prize for its series of investigations and database on foreign investments in the country.

Vasko Magleshov

Vasko Magleshov is а journalist, anchor and TV host for more than 10 years.

He began his career at a National TV broadcaster Sitel, worked for a satellite channel TV 24 News, and continued his career as news-editor at TV21 and Makfax News Agency covering judiciary topics.

He is one of the authors of the Handbook for disinformation and critical thinking for non-formal education in the country, and also is member of Media Judicial Council. He has participated in a lot of professional trainings and workshops for independent media, media literacy, fact checking and investigative journalism.

He has been part from a group for analysis of the media coverage and media monitoring program. Magleshov was awarded by the mission of EU in North Macedonia for an investigative story.

‘Navigator’ Offers Investigative Journalists Invaluable Tool

New guide supplies Balkan journalists with range of ways to use Open Source Intelligence in their research.

The German Corporation for International Cooperation, GIZ, and BIRN have developed a new guide for investigative journalists on Open Source Intelligence. Ludo Block and Andrej Petrovski developed The Navigator for investigative journalists following a training session held in May for investigative journalists from the Western Balkans in Skopje, North Macedonia.

The guide is designed to assist journalists in their research and investigations, especially with regard to Open Source Intelligence techniques. It supplies a variety of tools for documenting, archiving and operational security, provides ways to navigate search engines and social media and track people, assists with image verification, geolocation, searching different corporate registers and metadata research, and with exploring the “dark web”, as well as data handling.

The Open Source Intelligence training and development of The Navigator are part of GIZ’s Global Program, in its Governance and Human Rights Section, done in cooperation with BIRN, supporting investigative journalists from the Western Balkans in the global fight against illicit financial flows.

Download the guide

Goce Trpkovski

Goce Trpkovski has been working as a journalist since 2004.

He joined BIRN from the beginning of 2018, and prior to that he has been working as a reporter and editor in the daily newspapers Vreme and Nova Makedonija.

In May 2019, he was given an award by the Macedonian National Council of the International Council of Museums for raising awareness about the poor condition of cultural heritage in the country.

BIRN North Macedonia Journalist Awarded for Cultural Heritage Report

BIRN journalist Goce Trpkovski was given an award by the Macedonian National Council of the International Council of Museums for raising awareness about the poor condition of cultural heritage in the country.

The award was presented at the celebration for the International Museum Day on May 18, at the ASNOM Memorial Centre, a national landmark in the village of Pelince commemorating the establishment of the independent Macedonian state in 1944.

After the devastating fire at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in April this year, BIRN published an in-depth article documenting the risks to numerous cultural heritage sites in North Macedonia. The country has more than 1,200 sites – houses, public buildings, ancient ruins, churches, mosques, fortsas towers – listed as being under protection.

The article revealed that some unique historical sites like the Skopje Aquaduct are crumbling, despite politicians’ promises to restore them, while many listed sites owned by non-state entities (religious buildings, private houses and others) lack appropriate equipment in case of fire or other disasters, which they should have under the law.

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 sdk.mk, 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, Time.mk, 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 Journalists Trained in Mobile Video Journalism

BIRN journalists from Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and BIRN Hub attended a training course on mobile video production from August 19 to 21 in Skopje.

The three-day training course was conducted by a Voice of America (VOA) Broadcasting Board of Governors trainer.

A group of around ten journalists and editors from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia were introduced to new mobile apps for filming and editing video content on mobile platforms.

They were also taught new approaches and developed skills in video reporting using new technologies that will be in use in everyday reporting and delivering content, especially for social media.

The training was intended to improve focused video content relevant to web and social media audiences and enhance journalists’ ability to tell stories that engage users through text, pictures, videos and livestreaming.

The training continued the cooperation between BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina and VOA, which started at the beginning of 2017.