JOURNALISTS' NETWORK Issue #116 August 13, 2001.
INTERNET-BASED NEWS SERVICE THRIVES IN KOSOVO
By Terry FitzPatrick
KosovaLive independent news agency was launched last October, nobody was sure it
could survive. The goal seemed simple enough: provide unbiased journalism about
the grassroots issues of everyday life-health care, education, good governance -
to media outlets where neutral, unbiased reporting is lacking.
project was surrounded by uncertainties. Would local newspapers choose to run
wire-service stories instead of their own by - lined reports? Did they really
want unbiased news? Would they think that KosovaLive was a stealth project
funded by international development agencies to promote an international point
months later, the problem-if you can call it that-is too much KosovaLive content
in local publications, not too little. Newspapers fill entire pages with
KosovaLive stories, and some observers are beginning to wonder if KosovaLive
content is keeping weaker papers alive. For many radio stations, KosovaLive is
the only source of news.
the burdens of success.
is still recovering from its war, during which the Serbian Army forced at least
740,000 ethnic-Albanian inhabitants to flee in early 1999. Most refugees
returned, and more than 40,000 multinational troops are now keeping the peace.
There has been remarkable progress since the war, but Kosovo is still in the
early stages of economic, physical, political and social recovery. And unrest in
neighboring Macedonia has brought a flood of 80,000 refugees to Kosovo.
this unsettled climate, Kosovo's news outlets appear to be thriving. The media
sector is one of the most visible examples of an optimistic post-conflict
entrepreneurial spirit. As is common in newly-liberated societies, there's an
explosion of free speech and self-expression. There are now six daily newspapers,
24 television stations and 92 radio stations. The reality, however, is that they
can't all survive. The subscription and advertising base of approximately two
million people is simply not large enough.
the stewardship of editor Kelmend Hapciu, the Internet-based news agency has
flourished. KosovaLive publishes 30 stories per day in Albanian and a dozen
stories per day in English, all available free of charge at http://www.kosovalive.com
The agency has five staff reporters in the capital city of
Pristina and 20 stringer correspondents in outlying towns and villages. With one
editor for every six writers, there is time to work and rework the copy before
publication. The quality shows.
the project relied on intensive story coaching and extensive rewriting by
international advisors. But KosovaLive has developed a substantial degree of
editorial self-sufficiency in less than a year. The service has also established
remarkable reach and credibility for a start-up operation.
biggest challenge, though, will be to convert KosovaLive from a free Internet
site to a subscription-only service. Initial support has come from the Soros
Foundation's Open Society Institute, Press Now, the International Research and
Exchange Board (IREX), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE),
and the governments of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the U.S. KosovaLive
will remain a non-profit, unaffiliated non-governmental organization, but it
must begin to generate its own revenue-with a goal of financial self-sufficiency.
daunting task to get people to pay for something they've grown accustomed to
receiving for free. Even though KosovaLive can be viewed as a model of how to
launch an independent news agency, its ultimate survival remains an open
FitzPatrick is a journalism advisor at KosovaLive, supported by the U.S. State
Department's Professional in Residence Program. In September, he will begin a
Knight International Press Fellowship at Bush Radio in South Africa.)
P.O. Box, CH-8031