Local newspapers in Ukraine on the frontline and de-occupied territories mostly resumed their operation, however, one in every two print editions reduced the publication frequency by 2-4 times, almost all of them reduced the number of pages by an average of half. The Union of Journalists of Ukraine presented a study of the needs of media from the de-occupied and front-line territories, conducted as part of “Improving Media Resilience in Ukraine”, implemented by IRMI in partnership with Fondation Hirondelle and funded by Swiss Solidarity. Almost a third of the research participants are editors participating in the project.
According to the results of a survey of 30 newspaper editorial offices in 10 regions of Ukraine, 90% of local publications did not work for almost six months. “Mayak” newspaper (Kharkiv region) during the almost three-month forced downtime due to Ukrposhta’s terminated operations published “Frontova Gazeta” in A4 format with a circulation of 200-400 copies. According to the editor, “it was distributed free of charge in shops, village councils, libraries under the motto “Read it – pass it on to someone else!” During this period, one full-length newspaper was also published, which was delivered to subscribers by the newspaper staff. It was costly and slow.”
Even now 63% of editorial offices admit that their current capacity in terms of assests is not enough to ensure their full running frequency.
In 80% of editorial offices the number of staff working on creating a newspaper has decreased. Mainly due to the inability to pay the salaries. One in every four editorial offices has one or two people working on putting a newspaper together.
Slightly more than half (52%) of the surveyed newsrooms are currently based in their pre-invasion operations. The other half of the newsrooms relocated completely (30%) or partially (18%). In fact, only a third of the newsrooms have now restarted their operations in their former premises. Another 20% operate in a hybrid format: combining the offline work with the remote work, every other editorial office works just remotely.
Income and salary
Only two newsrooms declared 30 percent or more of advertising revenue in the structure of the newspaper’s total revenue, while the majority reported their complete or almost complete absence. Here’s something about subscriptions: according to some of the interviewees, Ukrposhta does not engage in newspaper subscriptions, so this channel should be factored out. People living in rural areas refuse to subscribe “due to poor quality and untimely delivery”.
Almost 40% of editorial offices have reduced or completely stopped the retail sale of publications due to the temporary occupation of the territory, the proximity to the war zone, the complications of logistics, the relocation of a large part of the population to other hromadas, and the shutting down of outlets.
The average salary in the surveyed newsrooms is UAH 8,000, 20% less than before the war, whereas one in every four newsrooms pays no salaries at all.
Only 5 out of 30 surveyed newsrooms received financial aid from the state during the war. Instead, more than half received donor funding. 28 out of 30 newsrooms are planning to apply for donor support in the coming months.
What they need, what they aspire to
Among the current priority needs of newsrooms, two prevail: financial support (94%) and training (56%).
A year since the start of the full-scale invasion, the survey says, newsrooms have realised how important it was for their media to be present on digital platforms. Many editors emphasize that while their settlements were under occupation or siege, digital channels became almost the only source of news for local residents.
“During the occupation the publication’s website and social media pages were the main channel of communication with the community” (editor from Kharkiv region).
“We had no electricity, no water, no communication. Only the Internet miraculously made its way, and we tried to get to people the information they needed” (editor from Chernihiv Oblast).
“During this year, we realized how important it is to have such platforms at this time. We modernized our site, transferred it to a new platform, we create an average of 10 posts for it every day. Before that the site was scarcely used, it had about 1,000 unique visitors per month, now it has 9,000. On Facebook the results are even better – we have a reach of 45,000 compared to 3,000 in early February” (editor from Donetsk region).
“We want to learn how to better promote the site and attract a larger audience”;
“Employees need to be trained on how to work with the newly created website”; “We need to learn how to work with a website and a group on social media: how to promote content, make it readable, how to monetize media platforms, and how to attract advertisers”;
“We need training courses for employees on the promotion and popularization of the site (SEO, SMM), as well as training on the promotion and administration of the publication’s Telegram channel and social media pages. Training on how to shoot and edit video content for You Tube channel, Instagram, TikTok».
“Thanks to financial support, media and the staff can be preserved,” Oleksiy Soldatenko, Project coordinator, Director of International programs of the Institute of Regional Press and Information (IRMI) comments on the survey findings. – But regional publications going forward need sustainable development, digital transformation, mastering of new professional skills in order to become more up-to-date and competitive. Therefore, along with financial assistance, the project offers mentoring for editorial offices and conducts trainings for journalists. We help with technical equipment that allows the newsroom staff to become more mobile and more professional. According to the survey findings the editors of the publications are aware of the prospects of content distribution on digital platforms and are very interested in continuous training.
The Ukrainian press at the front-line and de-occupied territories today is a symbol of unity, faith, and inspiration for Ukrainians to fight and win, Head of the NSJU Serhiy Tomilenko is confident. In the frontline areas, where there are problems with communications, traditional print media, which are trusted by local residents, are getting a second wind.
Even though for many editorial offices recent years have become a time of rapid digitalization, thanks to which they were able to create decent content and maintain contact with the reader, there are still many problems. Many of the editors combine the functions of a manager and a journalist for their publications, handling the development of digital platforms. Despite significant challenges they understand the need to work systematically and professionally to not just survive, but also carry on and develop.