Sharing Amid the Crisis: Fojo’s Conference for Eastern Europe

Written by: Alona Melnyk

Illustration by: Katerina Balakina, @xrenobl
Hem/News/Sharing Amid the Crisis: Fojo’s Conference for Eastern Europe

Just like many publications around the globe, media in Eastern Europe went through challenging times this spring. While advertising profits crumbled under the pressure of lockdowns, readers streamed onto the news websites like never before in search for reliable information.

For some countries the burden was double. In the midst of the pandemics, Belarus has gone into the biggest political crisis of its modern history with mass protests, arrests, and internet shutdowns. Since the end of September, Armenia and Azerbaijan are in the state of an open armed conflict. All in all, the need for media managers to share, discuss, and together look for the strategies for the future has, probably, never been as burnings as now.

On October 19-21, Fojo Media Institute and its partner organisations gathered publishers and media executives from eight countries of Eastern and Central Europe at its Third International Conference on Sharing Media Experience. Each of the conference’s three days was dedicated to one topic of extra importance in the times of hardship: management, audience and community building, monetization.

As the key-note speaker of the conference Grzegorz Piechota, researcher at International News Media Association, put it: “it’s now or never” for the news publishers. This year, crisis management in media does not only mean trying to save the business, but also taking an opportunity for the long-due systemic transformation. Print newspaper distribution was effectively halted overnight as countries went into lockdowns, urging abrupt transition to digital publishing. As advertisers pull out their budgets from media, editorial teams had to engage their readers in crowdfunding and find new ways to cooperate with local businesses.

The way media and their audience communicate and view each other has also changed dramatically. Some publication in Eastern Europe managed to pull through the hardest times by relying on their extremely loyal audience. In Belarus, for example, independent outlets’ operation was strained by constant arrests of journalists, blocking of websites and internet outages. Then the readers came to help, sending in footage of the protests, pictures and news tips. As the websites were blocked, readers stayed true to the trusted media and streamed into their Telegram channels.

Lastly, rapid change of circumstances this year sped up the process that many media were already slowly building up for: switching to new monetization models. In Ukraine, a number of news outlets had to turn to their readers for donations when it became obvious that advertising profits are in a deep dive. It is still unclear, though, if “readers clubs” and other crowdfunding models can prove adequate in the long run. Thus, some of the experts and practitioners at the conference advocated for digital subscription model as a more sustainable choice. For example, this strategy worked out well for some of the online media in Latvia. At the same time, industry representatives from Russia stayed skeptical about the perspectives of digital subscriptions in their country and put their hopes into yet more inventive advertising formats – for example, in the fast-growing field of podcasting.

At the conference, all these issues were covered in detail by more than 20 speakers from Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. Follow Fojo’s next publications to read the main points of their presentations.