#CBLocal – Local journalism needs stable and transparent financing

In the Journalist’s House in Zagreb, a networking event took place among journalists who received grants to work on stories as part of the Cross-border Local project.

The project is implemented by Journalismfund Europe, European Federation of Journalists, Transitions and SSE Riga Centre for Media Studies. The goal is to provide local journalists with a grant program, training programs and a mini MBA for local news media.

One of the 162 grants was awarded to journalists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, portal eTrafika.net, Vanja Stokić and Ajdin Kamber, who discovered how institutions are reluctant to properly identify and bury refugees and migrants who drown in rivers in the Serbia-BiH-Croatia triangle.

“My colleague and I found more than 50 unidentified graves of migrants, which means that more than 50 families will not find out what happened to their sons, husbands, brothers… Because on those graves there is only a wooden board NN and the year of burial. People will not know which grave to exhume,” says Vanja Stokić.

The grant amount was 8,500 euros, and the work on the story lasted 10 months. Local journalism is in serious trouble in almost all of Europe. That’s why it’s not surprising that Vanja Stokić, has 12 years experience in working with donors. She liked this grant programme because the method of application and communication is simple and extremely fast. “They are not burdened with bureaucracy and are focused on us being on the ground and reporting,” she said.

After the publication of the story, next week they will publish a 45-minute documentary. Originally, Vanja Stokić and Ajdin Kamber wanted to publish a mini-documentary, but they recorded a lot of material on the ground that they think everyone should see.

Their colleague from Hungary, Anna Debreczeni, from the G7.hu portal, investigated for whom the old industrial areas are demolished to be replaced by some new settlements? The same research was carried out by her colleagues in Prague and Sofia. In these cities, especially for young people, it is impossible to find an apartment to rent for a decent price, and they don’t even think about buying an apartment.

Comparing different cities with the same problem was an interesting experience for Anna Debreczeni, but she wants to continue working on the story as soon as possible because there is still a lot left to explore. So far, she has managed to map how the world of brownfield investments works and what threats it poses to people who cannot afford an apartment due to constantly rising prices. The scholarship for this project was 10,000 euros.

Do secondary schools in Europe give equal opportunities to refugee children? This question was investigated in Italy by freelance journalist Marzia Minore.

“Either school truly becomes the place where everyone has the same opportunities, as the constitution states, or we have failed.”, said one teacher asked about the challenges they are facing.

Colleagues from France, Poland, Great Britain and Germany started the same work in their countries.

A total of seven journalists participated in the project. The grant amounted to 24,500 euros. In eight months, they talked to students and teachers, learned from a psychologist how to talk to children.

A team of seven people had to learn to coordinate with each other. “It is more natural for journalists to write articles, not projects,” says Marzia Minore. She adds that sometimes journalists don’t even know about these types of grants. This one she will remember fondly because it was a grant for financing the work she wanted to do.

Towards a more sustainable solution for the survival of local journalism

But you can’t survive on grants, that’s not their purpose. Vanja explains that this type of support is received once a year, and that is if you are a bit lucky also. “It pushes you a little, but local journalism has to find a more sustainable model,” says Vanja. That is why they (eTrafika.net) are the first media in BiH that has subscription model. Thru subscription, many donate every month. These are modest amounts, but it always helps because it can cover costs for following local stories.

Maja Sever, president of the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists, highlighted the “Model of financing local media” as an example of good practice. The Model is the result of a project of the Croatian Journalists’ Association and TUCJ from 2022. It clearly elaborates the criteria for how local and regional governments should allocate money to local media. This model ensures the survival of local media and financial stability without jeopardizing journalist’s independence in their daily work. Several cities have decided to implement it.

The #CBLocal workshops were also an opportunity to brainstorm on how to help local media. First community radio for otherwise neglected neighborhoods in Lisbon, how to achieve two-way communication with the audience, pop up pilot project that involves a combination of quizzes and prizes for readers… and many other examples of good work were presented during workshops.

After two days in Zagreb, a well-known fact was reiterated once again – local media need stable and transparent funding in order to be able to freely report on topics of interest to the local community and the people who live in it.

The result of networking in Zagreb will be an action plan with recommendations for local and European policy makers, media managers and professional representative organizations of journalists.

Keep following the developments of #CBLocal project.

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