Our community is located on the very border with Belarus. Fortunately, it is quiet here now, and the panic that was present at the very beginning of the full-scale invasion has passed. Therefore, the community is functioning as usual, and unresolved problems persisted until we got to them.
We completely rebuilt our activities, delving more boldly into digital, expanding our audience there. Thanks to this, we gained both new topics and new income. We can say for sure that audience needs live communication and live broadcasts. Therefore, we share our experience and encourage our colleagues to take note of it and implement it in their own activities.

In our community, as evidenced by comments on social media, both men and women expressed extreme dissatisfaction with communication with local authorities, constantly stating that they felt neglected by local officials. We knew that we would not be able to break that ice right away. Moreover, the authorities were reluctant to engage in a dialogue with journalists, considering us rather as competitors. They sought to quickly publish various information about their activities, often presenting it subjectively, aiming to be monopolists. However, they did not always respond to requests from journalists to provide objective information about various urgent issues.

This is why, at the editorial office of Nove Zhyttia in the town of Liubeshiv, Volyn region, we have decided to make concerted efforts to serve as a bridge between the authorities and residents, facilitating effective communication. This means becoming an engine for solving the urgent problems of the community and increasing public confidence in both the authorities and our media. That is why we called our project “Understanding Through Dialogue.” However, we were still not sure about whether we could penetrate that barrier.

In the beginning, we had to overcome people’s despondency

We did everything possible to activate that dialogue: collecting questions from residents, sending requests to the authorities, writing articles, conducting live broadcasts, making trips to small villages, and creating videos.

People weren’t too willing to share their problems at first. We even heard something like “Whatever, what will change? Will you raise this question?” But when we began distributing the first publications with answers to the questions that most concerned residents, people’s activity increased rapidly. Therefore, almost 1,000 people took part in our surveys. This shows that people still felt heard, they began to trust us.

Almost 1,000 people took part in our surveys about the largest community problem.

The authorities did not immediately enter into a dialogue as well. They gave formal meaningless responses to our information requests. However, we contacted them for a second or third time to get a clear answer. To be honest, we were also motivated by the fact that, through our participation in the project with the assistance of the EU, people beyond the borders of Liubeshiv could learn that the authorities are not willing to solve the problems of our community.

It was the same with live broadcasts. The community head was the first who risked to participate. However, other managers, upon observing critical questions from the audience during the broadcasts, started declining our requests. After all, they could not resolve the questions here with their meaningless written responses. People need to hear clear answers to what they care about.

Not everyone was ready to give explanations to residents and report to the community. Authorities could not resolve the questions here with their meaningless written responses. People need to hear clear answers to what they care about.

Therefore, one of our significant conclusions is that not everyone was ready to give explanations to residents and actually report to the community. To this day, officials in the periphery often cite either martial law or various other reasons as excuses, avoiding the resolution of seemingly straightforward tasks that are part of their responsibilities. However, the argument that we would inform people that officials were afraid to talk to them worked in the end, and we obtained consent.

Results for the community: from street lighting to restoring the post office

And when the dialogue between the authorities and the audience finally began, it almost immediately started to yield results. It turned out that it is quite possible to solve various problems both on the scale of the entire community and in specific localities.

As an example, we successfully facilitated the restoration of street lighting in Liubeshiv streets, which had remained inactive for almost two years. The authorities justified this by stating that we are a border community, so the lighting doesn’t work for security reasons. But we provided examples of other communities, even large cities located near the front, where there is street lighting. We also demonstrated that unlit streets pose a danger to people, especially children, when crossing the road, particularly due to stray dogs. After that, street lighting was restored on many streets of the village.

The residents of Novi Berezychi aimed to establish a beach on no-man’s land. But, as it turned out, someone took it without permission. We initiated a study of geodetic maps, and upon our request, employees of the Land Department provided us with an extract. Armed with this documentation, we approached the village council to establish and demonstrate the communal ownership of the land plot. This means that the village council, as the owner, must respond to the unauthorized occupation. Which, in the end, was done through court. As a result, a recreational zone has been designated in the spatial plan of Liubeshiv community on the site, which will be used by up to 200 local residents.

It was heartening to have the parents of Liubeshiv Lyceum students visit the editorial office to express their gratitude for our successful resolution of the traffic congestion problem near the educational institution. So, during a live broadcast with the chief of the District Police Department, people voiced the problem of the daily congestion of cars near the Lyceum in the village. There, parents pick up junior school children every day, creating heavy traffic and increasing the danger of children crossing the road. But although my parents had raised this issue before, no one responded to it. After a discussion organized by our editorial staff, a patrol car began to be on duty near the school every day. Subsequently, the police appealed to the village council with a letter requesting changes to the traffic pattern on this section to install a stop ban sign there. Thus, about 500 school children are much safer now.

A separate very painful problem was the lack of communication between the authorities and the families of fallen heroes. We conducted a survey that showed that these people do not feel the support of local authorities at all. We announced the results to the officials, and then we attended a meeting with the village head alongside representatives of the families of the fallen soldiers. As a result, a community has been established for communication between this vulnerable category and the authorities, and meetings are held from time to time.

Our journalists were also involved in solving problems with postal services. As an illustration, the post office in Zalazzia, the largest village in the Liubeshiv community, ceased operations. Two postmen were dismissed, and one postwoman resigned. We started contacting the regional authorities. And the answer was the same: there is not enough capacity in the services to increase the number of staff. We suggested that the local deputy and activists conduct explanatory work among the population to encourage people to return to using postal services for receiving pensions, social payments, and purchasing periodicals. That is, so that people understand that it depends on them whether they will have a postwoman. We achieved the desired outcome, and Zalazzia now has a fully operational post office.

We visited the smallest villages of our community to ask people about their concerns.

The same thing happened in Uhrynychi and Zarudychi. However, the situation in these villages depended not so much on people as on the unwillingness of Ukrposhta management to send mobile offices there. We made a video so that even Mr. Smilianskyi could see it. Oddly enough, it still apparently influenced the situation because mobile offices are now operational.

Another problem related to Ukrposhta was also resolved positively. As our readers told us, not all villages provided pensioners with energy-saving light bulbs, or some villages only gave 3 instead of 5. But, as it turned out, in this way postmen wanted to increase the number of customers who would receive a pension at Ukrposhta. But it all came to the surface. As a result, residents of Hotsunia and Liubeshivska Volia received the light bulbs promised by the state.

More audience engagement – more interesting topics and higher revenue

I would like to emphasize once again that all this was implemented thanks to the project. In the dialogue, truth, understanding, and trust were born. If it weren’t for the broadcasts and video stories, people wouldn’t have had the opportunity to voice their questions directly to the heads of the community, district authorities, and other officials, and most importantly, to hope for their resolution. After all, we took note of every question, every problem and tracked how officials stick to their word to solve them.

The work in this project also had a very significant impact on us – we completely rebuilt our activities. Previously, we focused on the print edition. Because the main source of income for our company is subscription income. Accordingly, we tried to get the audience interested in subscribing to the print edition, but critical materials were not included in digital. We have published mainly informational materials on our website and social media platforms. But print media has fewer subscribers every year, and we need to develop other platforms one way or another. The project played a significant role in expediting that process; it served as a kick-start for us, enabling a shift in the direction of our activities.

We completely rebuilt our activities, delving more boldly into digital, and expanding our audience there. Thanks to this, we gained both new topics and new income

At first, however, we were afraid not to lose the newspaper’s audience. But still, we took a chance and introduced various surveys on our social pages and channels, started publishing critical and analytical materials there, and using video content. And thus we became closer to the audience, which has increased rapidly during these months of project implementation.

It also provided us with an additional source of information for subsequent materials, as people leave comments, highlight new problems, and suggest fresh perspectives on certain events. We also started to increase our income from other sources – social media platforms and websites. As our reach expands, we attract new advertisers to our website, Facebook page, and Telegram channel.

Quantitative results: a separate ground for pride

The primary goal we aimed to achieve throughout the project was to serve as catalysts for change in our community, assisting people in resolving a diverse range of pressing issues and fostering trust in both our media and local authorities. And we think we managed to do it at least a little bit. After all, we not only voice problems but also seek ways to solve them, overseeing the process of overcoming these issues. People have the opportunity to openly ask questions to officials, get answers and have results. Moreover, disseminating such information to a larger audience, so to speak, encourages the authorities to respond to submissions promptly and not delay in solving problems.

As a result, in the first two months of 2024, there has been a 45% increase in contacts with the editorial office from residents of the community compared to the same period last year. These contacts seek assistance in resolving specific issues and obtaining expert advice. For instance, Vasyl Kotysko from Liubeshivska Volia expressed, “You have the project, “Understanding Through Dialog.” So help us in fostering this dialogue because if Nove Zhyttia doesn’t bring up this issue, it’s unlikely it would be resolved at all.”

Quantitative results: about 20 problems are being solved, the number of requests has increased by 45%, and the audience has increased by 45.5%

If we analyze how much we achieved our goal as a percentage, we believe that we managed to attain the expected result by 60%. After all, thanks to our live broadcasts, we were able to more or less establish communication between the authorities and the people. Also, thanks to trips to small villages, we were able to identify and convey to the authorities the problems of these settlements. After all, we have some villages where the authorities have not been for years. First, they canceled these trips to different localities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then, they began to argue that during martial law, no one is allowed to gather crowds. Therefore, they communicated with people only through “direct telephone lines” and personal reception of citizens at their offices. Although two months passed from the beginning of our project, the first publications about small villages were finally published. The village head began to travel to the settlements of the community, but so far only to the larger ones, prefect district centres. We believe that the impetus for this was our project, as we have repeatedly highlighted that people are not satisfied with communication with the authorities.

During live broadcasts, people can voice a painful question and immediately get an answer to it.

By the way, the annual report of the village head is now planned to be broadcast live on our platform! After all, both the authorities and people saw the effectiveness of this method of communication. Similarly, we plan to conduct reports of prefects. So we clearly have a shift, which we are proud of.

In total, we managed to solve up to twenty problems:

1. Establishment of a mechanism for selling agricultural products in Dibrova allowed 10 residents to sell their harvested crops.

2. The authorities announced a competition for route communication with Selysko.

3. The effort to address stray dogs issue persists through their sterilization.

4. Street lighting has been restored in certain Liubeshiv streets.

5. A recreation area will be set up in Novi Berezychi.

6. Ukrposta resumed operations in Zalizzia.

7. Pensioners who do not receive their pensions through Ukrposhta were still able to receive five energy-saving light bulbs.

8. Two vulnerable families were able to receive assistance from UNICEF.

9. A medical professional works in the village of Berezna Volia.

10. In the village of Prokhody, a mini-library appeared in an educational institution.

11. The issue of unloading the Sedlyshche Lyceum by bringing children to the Uhrychiv Gymnasium is under consideration.

12. Libraries of 5 educational institutions have been replenished with new books.

13. Residents of the community who possess certificates rather than Chornobyl IDs are now finally able to apply for subsidies.

14. The issue of congestion of cars near the lyceum in the village was addressed by installing a no-stopping sign in the area.

15. Mobile post offices started operating in Zarudychi and Uhrynychi.

16. The district authorities will reconsider the list of institutions with educational security officers.

17. With the assistance of the Employment Service, 13 people secured employment, 8 underwent training, and 14 individuals received consultations.

If we talk about coverage within the project, then in total, we managed to reach 679,250 people with publications in the four months of the project. This figure encompasses the total views of each piece of content on our website, Facebook page, Telegram channel, Instagram page, YouTube channel, and newspaper.

The audience, measured by the number of followers on various platforms, was 34,117 people before the project commenced (digital – 32,032, print – 2,085). After the project was implemented, 49,644 people became employees (digital – 47,804, printed – 1,840).

The outcomes of Understanding Through Dialogue project confirmed that local media are important. Many people say that now local male and female journalists are not listened to, and their publications are ignored. That’s not true! During the project, we saw that we definitely have influence on the authorities, on their actions. And the response of officials to the problems raised by us is an example of this.

Hence, in the future, we plan to continue organizing live broadcasts with officials whom we have not yet had the opportunity to engage with. In particular, these are the Pension Fund, the Tax Service and the Administrative Service Center. We will explore strategies to overcome challenges when certain officials decline direct engagement in dialogue with people, hesitating to openly answer problematic questions. As practice has shown, some of them are still finding various reasons to decline participation in broadcasts, and their responses to information requests are predominantly dismissive. However, we’ve gained experience: through our persistence in project implementation, we explored alternative ways and engaged other officials to assist people in resolving their issues. For example, they established cooperation with specific deputies who, in turn, raised certain issues in the village council.

It is worth noting that the practice of conducting live broadcasts is not new in our country. A few years ago, we already held the first three such broadcasts. But due to the lack of necessary equipment, we were unable to continue that practice. At the same time, we could not purchase a camera or other equipment on our own due to the limited financial resources of the editorial staff. On the other hand, we also had little knowledge of how to manage various social platforms and create video content. The project, thanks to the support of the UMBA and the EU Delegation, helped to establish this.

Our experience is intended to be shared with our colleagues

What can we recommend to our colleagues based on our experience? Above all, demonstrate to people that you are on their side to enhance their trust in you. Engage in direct dialogue with them, inquire about their concerns, and make sure to address these topics, actively contributing to their resolution. To achieve this, don’t confine yourself to a solely printed version of the publication. On the contrary, expand across all digital platforms, engaging diverse age audiences. Your videos may not be flawless initially, but the key is that people will witness a different format for your work.

If someone tells you during the survey that this is all in vain, give this person a real example of what you have already managed to solve. Even if a person is very skeptical, invite them to become a participant in this process, see it from the inside, and join in solving a particular problem. Believe us, then you will find more like-minded people. This means that there are more chances to achieve results.

We also advise our colleagues not to forget that they are being read/watched by residents of the smallest villages, who, as they describe themselves, feel “forgotten by God and people.” When you start to get interested in what they care about, the feedback will be great. Likewise, we advise you not to disregard any contacts from people. Then there will definitely be trust.

Our small team has started to become an engine of change in our community.

I will briefly discuss how we determined the areas on which to concentrate our efforts. During the implementation of this project, we did not focus on one large-scale problems. Conversely, based on survey results, we identified up to a dozen issues that affect various segments and committed ourselves to assisting in their resolution. This way we could to be useful to residents of individual localities.

We did not focus on one large-scale problem; on the contrary, we identified up to a dozen of those that concern different strata and undertook to help solve them. Now 500 students of Liubeshiv Lyceum are relatively safe when crossing the road. And 50 kids from Prohody village school and kindergarten have a library. And about 200 residents of Novi Berezychi will have their local beach.

For example, we managed to provide postal services to the villages of Zalazzia, Zarudchi, and Uhrynychi with a total population of 3,800 people. Thanks to our efforts, the issue of increased accidents near the Lyceum in Liubeshiv was resolved, benefiting 500 students. 50 kids from Prohody village school and kindergarten now have a library. And about 200 residents of Novi Berezychi will have their local beach.

Hence, the project has proven to be beneficial for our entire community, fostering increased trust in our media among the people. We see how the reading audience is growing every day, and people turn to the editorial office, voicing various urgent issues with a request to assist in their solution. People appreciate our efforts. For instance, Liudmyla Khomych, a mother of two students at Liubeshiv Lyceum, expressed her gratitude, saying, “I thank the editorial staff of the newspaper Nove Zhyttia for addressing the issue of traffic danger near the school. Currently, the police are on duty there every day, and I am aware that there are plans to install a stop-banning sign. As a mother, I am reassured about the safety of my children.” Aliona Ostapchuk, a resident of Zalazzia, expressed gratitude to our editorial staff for addressing the issue of the lack of a postman, resulting in the establishment of a post office in the village. Olha Vashchuk, the head of the Kamin-Kashyrskyi District Military Administration, commended our work, stating that Nove Zhyttia is the only media outlet in our district that stays abreast of the times. She is happy to follow all your social media platforms, where the life of the district is quickly covered. She particularly values live broadcasts. They help us stay connected with our community, even online.

That is why we continue to implement the project. We continue writing our “Understanding Through Dialogue” materials. We reached agreements with certain officials, including the Liubeshiv community head, the head of Kamin-Kashyrskyi District Military Administration, and the chief of District Police, to continue live broadcasts, ensuring transparency in their operations. This approach will enable us to persist in addressing the issue of communication between the authorities and the audience.

Audience needs live communication and live broadcasts. Hence, we encourage our fellow colleagues to take note of this and incorporate it into their activities.

AUTHOR: Nataliia MUKHA, editor of Nove Zhyttia newspaper

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.