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March 14, 2022, 1:35 p.m.

More than $4 million has been raised for independent Ukrainian media. Here’s where it’s going.

Plus: Blocked by the Kremlin, the largest remaining independent news site in Russia is turning to an international audience for help.

Money is pouring in for the Ukrainian journalists covering the invasion of their homeland. A fundraising campaign organized by journalism groups The FixAre We EuropeJnomics, and Media Development Foundation has raised more than $4 million in a little over two weeks.

Of the $4 million raised between GoFundMe campaigns and direct donations, roughly $1.5 million has been raised for the Kyiv Independent and $2.5 million for other independent Ukrainian media. Zakhar Protsiuk, managing editor at The Fix, said the organizers haven’t stopped to analyze trends in giving, as the campaign is ongoing, but did note they’ve seen “tremendous support” from Poland, Germany, and the Nordic countries. (The campaign also got a helpful shout-out from Barack Obama.)

Where is the money going, exactly?

The top priority is supplying direct financial and operational support for Ukrainian news organizations and journalists, Protsiuk said. In practice, that looks like covering costs for information technology, insurance, transport, gasoline, and other supplies. (Ukrainian journalists have also requested cigarettes, another organizer told CJR.) The consortium is also paying for the purchase and delivery of media equipment and protective gear like helmets, tourniquets, bulletproof vests, and water filtration bottles to Ukraine.

The funds are being directed to established national digital outlets and specialized newsrooms as well as more regional publications. Parts of Ukrainian media have acted as little more than mouthpieces for billionaires and politicians; this campaign is raising funds exclusively for Ukraine’s independent news organizations.

The Kyiv Independent, an English-language launched by 30 journalists who left the Kyiv Post due to concerns about editorial independence near the end of 2021, has raised about $1.4 million on GoFundMe and garnered more than 6,300 supporters (for a total around $70,000/month) on Patreon.

Beyond the Kyiv Independent, the list of media outlets receiving funds includes Ukrainska Pravda, the oldest and largest digital media outlet in the country; online broadcaster Hromadske, another large national newsroom; the business-focused Liga.net; the investigative newsroom Slidstvo; Zaborona, known for its in-depth journalism; and the misinformation watchdog Detector Media.

“From the long-term perspective, we need to make sure that media, especially those of national significance, will continue to operate and report on the war effectively,” Protsiuk said. In some cases, that means helping media companies relocate and set up hubs in neighboring countries. (Zaborona, for example, has worked to set up a new newsroom in Lviv, a city closer to Ukraine’s border with Poland.)

Protsiuk is one of several Ukrainians on The Fix‘s staff. The Fix’s cofounder Daryna Shevchenko, is the CEO of the Kyiv Independent, while a second cofounder, Jakub Parusinski, is the former CEO of the Kyiv Post. The team’s deep roots in Ukraine have given them a head start on verifying news organizations and vetting requests for assistance. The team has said the consortium is acting with “care, but urgency, knowing that in war conditions critical decisions need to be made in a matter of hours, sometimes minutes” as they distribute funds.

“Several team members have a long experience working in Ukrainian media and know a lot of people and media personally,” Protsiuk said. “But for smaller, urgent in-bound requests, we have an ultra-fast due diligence process. One person briefly reviews the content a media is putting out for disinformation or ethics violations, while another confirms the person’s identity and does a background check within our networks. Often this means support can arrive in just a couple hours.”

The fundraisers are communicating with newsrooms and individual journalists using messaging services (Telegram, Signal, Messenger) as well as standard email and phone calls. “Ukrainian infrastructure has been incredibly resilient so far, so we are able to communicate with our colleagues via regular channels,” Protsiuk noted. “But the situation is very volatile and it can quickly change.”

Meanwhile, in Russia, a new “fake news” law has forced much of that country’s independent media to shutter and cease coverage of the violence happening across the border.

The largest remaining independent news site, Meduza, said it lost 30,000 financial supporters when transferring money from Russia to the rest of Europe became impossible. (Meduza is headquartered in Riga, Latvia and 70% of its audience lives in Russia.)

On Monday, it launched a crowdfunding page to appeal to the international community to become a supporter on behalf of the many Russians who cannot:

The Kremlin is doing everything in its power to hide the truth about its war against Ukraine. The country is under military censorship. Russian authorities prohibit the press from calling this large-scale invasion of Ukraine a war — and threaten journalists who publish independently verified information about the conflict with up to 15 years in prison …

In this situation, we turn to you. We ask you to take the place of our dedicated supporters from Russia. Save Meduza for our Russian readers — and for yourself.

We have a duty to tell the truth. We have millions of readers in Russia who need us. Without independent journalism, it will be impossible to stop this monstrous war.

Meduza had been preparing for another crackdown on the free press. The news org has been educating its readers about using VPNs to access blocked websites and directing their audience to platforms other than its website, including Telegram — where Meduza has doubled its audience to 1 million followers in recent days — and its own app. Katerina Abramova, Meduza’s director of communications, said that the news site was getting more than 2 million visitors per day in the first days of the war. Now, even with the government’s block, it’s still getting about 700,000 visitors per day.

Meduza has already had to dramatically overhaul its business model once. Originally founded as an ad-based business in 2014, Meduza was taking in more than $2.5 million annually when it was designated a “foreign agent” by the Russian government in April 2021. The law required Meduza to notify readers of its “foreign agent” status in every message — from articles to social media posts to ads — in a font that must be twice the size of the content. Within a week, Meduza lost more than 95% of its advertisers.

The publication had to cut 40% of its costs but, thanks to a quick pivot to reader revenue and a successful fundraising drive, it remained online.

More than 120,000 people have supported Meduza in the roughly 10 months since it was labeled a “foreign agent,” said Abramova. That included 33,000 recurrent supporters — the very contributors Meduza hopes, now, to replace.

Germany’s Krautreporter — which has experience running large-scale, successful crowdfunding campaigns — reached out to Meduza to offer help in the aftermath of Russia’s new media laws. “Millions of readers in Russia need an independent source of information,” Krautreporter publisher Leon Fryszer said. “Meduza might soon be the last one left.”

“In media, we often have to stand by and observe what is happening from a distance,” Fryszer added. “That’s our job, but also sometimes quite paralyzing. For me, helping Meduza is a chance to do something. That’s why we call on other media organizations to spread the word about this campaign. We can help our colleagues.”

Photo from a “War in Europe” series by Flickr user Mini Malist used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     March 14, 2022, 1:35 p.m.
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