How the news media is surviving in Ukraine
Jakub Parusinski is the co-founder and editor of The Fix Media, a trade magazine for media professionals, and CFO of The Kyiv Independent. Jakub Parusinski joined a group of 30 journalists who resigned from the Kyiv Post in 2021 to launch the Kyiv Independent. Less than three months later, Russia invaded Ukraine. As CFO of the outlet, Jakub has overseen the launch of a membership model that will ensure the outlet’s longevity for many months to come. He also founded consultancy JNomics Media and has raised over £3 million for Ukrainian media through the Media Development Foundation. On 11 May 2022, he spoke to our Journalist Fellows for one of our global journalism seminars about how Ukrainian news media can survive Putin’s invasion of their country and its eventual aftermath.
Watch the video of Jakub’s talk
Part of our Global Journalism Seminars series.
Read an automated transcript.
Why supporting Ukrainian media matters
- Replacing independent Ukrainian media with pro-Kremlin propaganda is part of Russia’s strategy in the areas of Ukraine it occupies | Learn more
- Journalists in Ukraine are deliberately targeted by military fire, according to RSF’s Press Freedom Index 2022 | Learn more
- At least 7 journalists have been killed while reporting since the beginning of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine | Learn more
- A Media Development Foundation report into the state of Ukrainian independent regional media after the first two months of the war found 69.12% of respondents noted a lack of funds to continue the normal functioning of newsrooms | Learn more
Seven takeaways from Jakub’s talk
1. On a new venture. On the day he spoke to us, Jakub launched Info point agency, a sales house for Ukrainian and Belarusian media. The agency will work with Ukrainian and Belarusian outlets and connect them to international brands for advertising partnerships.
“One of the challenges that Ukrainian media are facing is that following the war advertising markets have collapsed, but that's not a problem that's just confronting the Ukrainian media. It's also been a problem for a while now for Belarusian media, much of which is operating in exile,” Jakub explained.
By themselves, Ukrainian and Belarusian outlets would be too small to engage with global advertisers. The core idea of the project is to help them pursue these partnerships.
2. Ukrainian media matters. “This was a highly competitive, highly professional media industry that was built through sweat, tears and blood over three decades,” Jakub said. He pointed out that Ukrainian news media stood out in the region for its levels of media freedom and for its financial sustainability.
“What we see and hear consistently from Putin’s speeches, from the sort of messages that are coming out of the Kremlin, is that this war is also about destroying Ukraine's culture,” Jakub said. “It's not just about taking over. It is really a war that is designed to erase Ukraine. They don't even recognise that this country, this culture, has a legitimate right to exist, and the media plays a key role in carrying that culture.”
3. Don’t underestimate the business side. As a former journalist with an MBA and business experience, Jakub believes it’s essential to strengthen the business side of the media industry. He pointed to project management and operations as areas the sector needs to get better at, as well as respecting the need for this aspect of their work.
“One of the things that I really didn't like about media five or ten years ago, and which I think is going away, is that because of the advertising-based model we had to have two silos. You had editorial on one side and commercial on the other side. And that led to something that almost every outlet that was based on that model has, which is that editorial considers themselves the real media people and the other people are considered a little bit like second rate, second class sort of stuff. And that leads to tons of conflict.”
4. In a crisis you have to move quickly. Jakub described how emotional the very first days of the invasion felt, and how he and the Kyiv Independent were able to rally support from the beginning.
“The first 48 or 72 hours are what I would call kind of a magical period when all institutions that are supposed to work in a given sector, they essentially break down because nobody has planned for this,” Jakub said. “And what happens is that people become people, which is quite unique. People are no longer just representatives of whatever organisation they are. They are at the very core of them humans who are making what are often very moral, emotional or other judgement-based decisions,” he said. Then bureaucracy temporarily ceases to matter and you can “show up anywhere as long as you make a reasonable argument,” he said.
5. Cooperation is important. Jakub emphasised that the efforts he spearheaded to help Ukrainian media came together through a team effort that included The Fix Media, the Media Development Foundation, the Kyiv Independent, JNomics Media as well as independent outlet Are we Europe. The existing relationship between these organisations made the starting push to work together for Ukraine easier. Even on the donor side, multiple international organisations pitched in, with help sometimes coming from unexpected places, such as the Archewell Foundation, founded by Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
“We had that one headline one morning that Meghan Markle had designated funds for Ukrainian media, which cheered everybody up,” Jakub remembers. Also integral was the solidarity received from European publishers. “What was great about that was that it was extremely flexible money from people who are also media managers. So, while I have nothing but thanks to all the donors and all the philanthropic organisations that are supporting Ukrainian media, a lot of them are not run by media managers. So it's a little bit difficult for them to determine what is actually helpful, and a lot of them have bureaucracy and they need to work around that. And that's not something that is super helpful when you need to move at extreme speeds. I think the role that other publishers played in coming and supporting was absolutely phenomenal,” Jakub said.
6. Raising the money is easier than spending it. Jakub highlighted multiple times just how integral planning was to his operation. “Everyone pays a lot of attention to the fundraising part and raising the money. That's where you get the loud headlines. This was about 10% of our efforts,” he said. It was more difficult to get other things done like the actual donation of equipment and the micro grants to Ukrainian outlets, transport and relocation, setting up alternative offices, a survival fund and sustainability support, which has come together in the form of Info point. Jakub’s team had to ruthlessly prioritise, especially in the chaos of the early days of the invasion. “When in doubt, just solve whatever's in front of you,” he said.
7. Logistics are everything. “Throughout this whole period, I would say that at least half of our resources went to managing logistics. And this is something that is an absolute nightmare,” Jakub said.
He explained how difficult it was to make sure every item reached journalists and news organisations on the ground: “When I look at the way that a lot of the organisations are thinking about logistics, this is how everyone sees it: you get stuff to Warsaw, move it along, get it to Ukraine and then send it to the frontlines. This is what it looks like in reality: you get it to Warsaw, you have four customs checkpoints to get through. Each of them requires a different document and you have to get it across the border. Again, four different documents. You break it up, you send it all over the place. At the peak, we had seven, eight people who were working almost full-time just managing the logistics. And in parallel, [there were] people coming and saying, ‘We want to buy 100 vests and ship them.’ No, you're not. That's just not going to happen. Because first, all of the vests in Europe were bought in the first 48 hours, so you need to ship them from China. And second, it's a really difficult process to manage all of this along the way.”
The bottom line
Throughout his wide-ranging discussion with Caithlin Mercer and our Journalist Fellows, Jakub kept coming back to the importance of coming together to help Ukrainian media. Even as he described the panic of the early days of the war and the relative routine that has been established in some parts of the country since, his work around this issue is far from over. Instead, it is evolving, from the frantic need to provide emergency help to journalists who found themselves in a warzone overnight to thinking about the country’s media sustainability in the longer term. Jakub gave us a powerful reminder of the irreplaceable societal role that a free media plays.
“When I dream about how this ends, it's that Ukraine is free, is whole and has a whole ton of media that can report about business and what's happening with the environment. But I also want the media to get back to writing about celebrity gossip, to just get back to normal,” he said.