When a district newspaper discontinues its publication in certain areas, residents face a lack of access to relevant local information. When communities receive a quality local media outlet that focuses on providing value and assistance to people, numerous problems begin to find solutions. It is even somewhat disappointing that the editorial board receives feedback from these communities rather than from our established audience, which is evidently saturated with information from various sources.

Due to the war, over three thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs) arrived in our city of Volodymyr, Volyn region. Additionally, approximately the same number found refuge in rural communities within the area. In terms of the number of inhabitants, this is actually like several localities. These individuals, for the most part, lacked access to their own trusted media, which could serve as a valuable source of information for them. Hence, our editorial team resolved to introduce dedicated sections in both the newspaper and website and forge collaboration with the Integration NGO established by displaced persons in Volodymyr. We also aim to promote the activities of volunteers by organizing meetings with them and publishing their requests for assistance.

In fact, this is the focal point of the project that we executed with the backing of the Ukrainian Media Business Association (UMBA) and financial support from the European Union. Looking ahead, it’s important to highlight that involving community residents played a big part in increasing our readership. I have to explain that.

Now, we work for several areas

The editorial office is situated in Volodymyr, Volyn region, and our publication spans across the town of Volodymyr and Volodymyr raion. Due to administrative changes, the raion now includes two additional former raions and the town of Novovolynsk. Even with the administrative reform leading to the expansion of our raion by joining the neighboring ones, there were concerns about the survival of smaller local publications that covered only two or three communities. We suggested to our colleagues that we explore options together for unification and joint survival. However, none of the three editors agreed to this; moreover, they perceived the proposal as an attempt to “suppress” them. They responded by mentioning that they, too, were editors leading their own teams. As a result, the newspaper of the former neighboring Ivanychi district turned into a sort of “one-man show,” where the editor wrote all the materials, interspersing them with reprints, and transitioned to an eight-page and then four-page format. The newspaper was discontinued last year. Misto Vechirnie, the private newspaper that was once published in our city, couldn’t manage to survive either. Now, as they say, we hold all the cards.

With the goal of becoming a valuable resource for IDPs and aiding those who had to relocate due to war, we needed to improve our collaboration with the communities associated with our district. To achieve that, we needed to start visiting there first

When the big war reached us, we had to cut the publication volume from 16 pages to 12, abandoning the television program. We, however, ensured not to miss a single issue. With the goal of becoming a valuable resource for IDPs and aiding those who had to relocate due to war, we needed to improve our collaboration with the communities associated with our district. To achieve that, we needed to start visiting there first.

The two journalists remaining on our editorial staff still struggled to find time for traveling to remote villages as the newspaper demanded considerable time and effort daily. However, with well-planned project activities, we embarked on this task. It yielded even greater results than we had initially anticipated.

During those trips, our journalists discovered so many interesting topics that they wish to return there more than once. We have established cooperation with the heads of those communities and already have the prospect of publishing paid content. We also gained new subscribers in these communities. Mobile spots are selling 20-50 copies, and although this may not be a significant number yet, there is a prospect of expanding readership there. This is apparent from the viewership of content related to these communities on our website and the newspaper’s Facebook page, coupled with positive feedback from residents. It is even somewhat disappointing that there is more feedback from these communities than from our established audience, which is evidently saturated with information from various sources.

Journalists Vitalina Makaryk, Valentyna Tynenska, and Yaroslava Koloskova, with whom we entered into employment agreements as part of the project, were actively involved in the development of the website in the Lytovezh community.
The editorial work brings benefits to people

The business trips to Ivanychi, Pavlivka, Poromiv, and Lytovezh communities served as a catalyst for a shift in the perspective of our coverage and motivated our journalists to embark on additional trips to Ustyluh and Zymne communities beyond the project’s scope. Journalistic attention is increasingly directed towards the stories, needs, and problems of residents in settlements distant from the district center. This benefits not only the editorial office, resulting in more views on the website and lively discussions of materials on social networks but also the subjects of the publications. Thanks to our publication, they have, in many cases for the first time, gained the opportunity to voice their concerns, express their needs, and, in some instances, even solve their problems through our platform.

The visits to communities served as the impetus for a certain shift in the “optics” of topic coverage.

During visits to the communities, our journalists introduced themselves and shared stories of internally displaced persons who found themselves in our region because of the war. These included both success stories of people who adapted well, found jobs, and became active in the community, as well as stories of those facing various needs – be it material or non-material – while starting a new life in a different place. For instance, we assisted a migrant from Zaporizhzhia, now living in the distant village of Turivka, in gathering essential household items and furniture. We collaborated with a carrier on mutually beneficial terms, ensuring the delivery to her was free of charge.

Entrepreneur Artem Markhodei (left) agreed to deliver aid to Ms. Angela, who resides in the village of Turivka.

Through interactions IDPs, we discovered new authors, such as Fedir Rudenko from Luhansk region. He successfully left his native village just hours before it was occupied by Russians and arrived in Volodymyr with virtually nothing. Here, he has discovered a platform to unleash his creative potential, sharing his poetic humoresques with the press and spearheading the restoration of the Poetry Club.

To identify the current problems and needs of displaced persons, we conducted a survey in two dormitories, which serve as places of compact residence for IDPs. This effort proved instrumental in addressing some crucial requests. For example, following our survey, a playground for children of IDPs was established in one of the dormitories. To aid the integration of displaced people into the community and keep them informed about local events, we have provided subscriptions to our publication for dormitory residents.

Yaroslava Koloskova is conducting a survey of internally displaced persons in the pedagogical college dormitory.

Following our survey, a playground for children of IDPs was established in one of the dormitories. To aid the integration of displaced people into the community and keep them informed about local events, we have provided subscriptions to our publication for dormitory residents.

Our project also focused on local volunteers. We informed the general public about volunteer initiatives in Ivanychi, Pavlivka, Poromiv, and Lytovezh communities. We assisted in organizing and implementing “hot” charity meetings, provided information support, and facilitated communication among volunteers from different communities, enabling them to establish effective cooperation.

A publication about volunteers from the Ivanychi community garnered almost three thousand views on the website, which was still in its old version. We have published information about their needs and fund-raising campaigns on multiple occasions.

We also support several volunteer initiatives on an ongoing basis in information and organizational terms. In addition, Slova Pravdy has played a role in organizing charity book fairs for Book for Life. We organized a book collection in the editorial office, facilitated the enlistment of new participants for the fair, covered some financial costs, and, of course, provided complete information support. We also consistently feature the activities of the Mother’s Wings volunteer organization, which is involved in the production of camouflage nets and costumes.

Thanks to this, within the community of volunteers and independent public initiatives, our publication has earned a reputation as an unbiased, reliable, and effective communication platform. This reputation is increasingly recognized and utilized by various organizations, associations of volunteers, public activists, and more. We initiated active communication with organizations such as the Veteran Hub NGO, MKFoundation, and others.

Here are some important (and interesting) details.

Through our involvement in a project that supported and enhanced the effectiveness of UMBA, we published 12 stories about displaced individuals who found themselves in our region due to the war. These stories are not merely a “journalistic product,” created with the sole purpose of finding interesting materials. All of these are people’s lives — our fellow Ukrainians. We take pride in the fact that our work has contributed to helping people.

I’ve previously shared the story of assisting a woman who relocated from Zaporizhzhia to the secluded village of Turivka. It was a win-win situation for everyone involved – the woman, the residents, the newspaper, and the carrier, who delivered everything in exchange for advertising their company’s services on our media. That is not the only example. After our publication about the lawyer Alina, she was offered a job at one of the city’s enterprises.

All these aspects enhance confidence in the publication as a whole and in our work. Let me to reiterate that the journalists from the editorial office undertook four trips to the communities of the former Ivanychy district, which has now become a part of our district. Since the beginning of 2023, the district newspaper ceased publication there, leaving the people without a local source of information about events. Having restored this opportunity for them, we keenly felt that people were hungry for such attention. Publications from these communities garnered several thousand views on the website, newspaper subscriptions increased by 20 copies, and an additional 50 copies were sold at retail in these communities.

We closely monitor exactly how our work helps people and how they respond to our posts. This gives us an idea of what else we can do to be useful

The authorities are actively engaged in addressing pressing issues, and our role in this process is by no means insignificant. The information posted in the newspaper and on the website about the city authorities’ plan to allocate over UAH 13 million for the renovation of the sports ground near Lyceum No. 5 sparked a broad discussion. Residents were outraged by such use of funds during the war, and as a result, the tender was canceled.

After the publication of the results of our survey in the places of compact residence of IDPs, the Rokada Foundation took notice of the issues raised by residents of two dormitories. As a result, preparations are underway to open a social and psychological relief room in the pedagogical college dormitory for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Moreover, a sports ground has already been set up at the extracurricular activity center dormitory.

We organize assistance to displaced persons

The editorial team has crafted 10 publications about volunteers, fostering communication among them and elevating the level of trust in their activities. We arranged a fundraiser in the editorial office, contributing the proceeds to volunteers. Also, we gathered cans for preparing stews and collected books to support a charity book fair.

We launched “Heroes as We Remember Them” in our publication, and it has garnered thousands of views. It is crucial for individuals who have lost their relatives that their memory continues to endure.

Some of our statistics

Additionally, I’d like to share the dynamics of our audit indicators, as it is a crucial aspect that every media manager should address. The circulation of the Slovo Pravdy newspaper, in publication since 1939, has remained stable despite the declining trends in print media. As of the beginning of 2023, it stands at 2,801 copies. The Facebook followers increased by 300 people in just two months, and the number of unique page views tripled, rising from 772 to 2,359. The number of subscribers to the Telegram channel grew from 47 at the project’s outset to 245. We cannot provide precise statistics for website visits during the project implementation yet, as Google Analytics is temporarily inaccessible. However, there is a notable increase in the number of views on that channel.

To bolster the digital platforms of the editorial office, we’ve brought an additional team member onto the project. We have no plans to part ways with her, given her demonstrated effectiveness in the online distribution of the publication.

To facilitate this growth, we enlisted the services of an additional employee as part of the project estimate, adhering to the terms of a civil employment contract. This decision was made because the existing editorial staff, consisting of only 5 members, couldn’t always manage the expansion of digital platforms effectively. Having demonstrated the effectiveness of online distribution for the publication, we have no intention of parting ways with her after the project concludes. Instead, we will explore our own avenues to ensure its continued operation. We also started working with Collaborator Direct Advertising Exchange.

Our mentor Andrii Vdovychenko helped us a lot. He provided several valuable tips and “opened our eyes” to our website, which we launched at our own expense eight years ago, initially considering it quite decent. Now, we recognize that it was essentially a delayed electronic copy of the newspaper. We intentionally postponed the placement of materials online by several days to support the retail sale of the printed version. The mentor convinced us that this policy is outdated, emphasizing that the website must have its own independent existence, requiring significant updates to thrive.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that with the support of the donor and assistance from UMBA and its specialists, we obtained an opportunity for modernization and expansion that, considering the financial constraints of the editorial office, was beyond our previous aspirations. This includes the updated, or rather, entirely new website that we are currently utilizing in our operations. In addition to the funds received from UMBA with the support of donors, we contributed some of our own funds to create a distinct section for advertisements on the website. Following this update, we aim to compete with local online publications that are often influenced by the voices of local oligarchs and politicians, and frequently manipulate information in their favor. The new equipment that we received under the project will also help us do this. We wouldn’t have bought it at our own expense.

Participation in the UMBA Project, “Effective Local Media: Digital Development for Community Engagement,” has emerged as a pivotal growth factor not only for our publication overall but also for journalists who have become more mobile. They have started adopting new content creation formats more frequently and have significantly broadened the base of newsmakers and contacts within the communities of the district. It also facilitated networking with individuals involved in generating positive changes at the local level, enabling us to actively participate in creating such changes ourselves.

This publication was created with the support of the European Union. The content is the sole responsibility of the Ukrainian Media Business Association and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union, whose financial support made the project possible.

Author: Antonina Mykhalchuk, editor of the Slovo Pravdy newspaper