Seven independent Ukrainian media outlets that rose to face head-on the challenges and dangers brought by Russia’s war of aggression with courage, quality reporting, and a steadfast commitment to serving local communities at a time of immense need are the recipients of the 2022 IPI-IMS Free Media Pioneer Award.
They are: ABO, Hromadske, Slidstvo.info, StopFake, The Kyiv Independent, Ukraїner, and Ukrainska Pravda.
The IPI-IMS Free Media Pioneer award is presented to organizations meeting the demands of the moment through innovative models of journalism, media, or press freedom defence. They are opening up new ways of thinking about the free flow of information to strengthen independent journalism and meet the needs of their communities. The International Press Institute (IPI) established the Free Media Pioneer Award in 1996. It is now given annually in partnership with International Media Support (IMS).
Independent journalism in Ukraine played a key role in promoting democracy and freedom of the press even before the full-scale Russian invasion, battling the country’s oligarch-dominated media field. Innovative storytelling, strong business models, wide networks, and a commitment to independence ensured that they were able to continue providing both local and international audiences with important news and information despite Russia’s war.
The IPI-IMS international awards jury chose to honor the creativity and bravery of Ukraine’s independent media and wished to recognize the ways in which Ukrainian media were able to quickly adjust to respond to their communities’ needs and the realities of war, offering a model of resilience and courage that has inspired the world.
The jury has chosen to highlight seven nominated media that represent the diversity of the Ukrainian independent media community. These outlets strive to provide much-needed high-quality journalism while simultaneously combatting pro-Kremlin propaganda, struggling with insufficient resources, and risking their lives on the frontlines. Each of these publications plays a unique role in bringing news and information to the public, and together they perform an invaluable service in informing their communities and beyond in a time of war. Finally, while this award is being presented to a group of seven media that were nominated, the jury is conscious of the valuable contributions of other independent media in Ukraine.
This year’s Free Media Pioneer award will be presented together with IPI’s World Press Freedom Hero Award at a special ceremony at the 2022 IPI World Congress at Columbia University in New York City on the evening of September 9.
ABO Local Media Development Agency
The ABO Local Media Development Agency was established in 2017 after Ukraine passed a law to remove state influence on municipal and state publishers. ABO’s content management system, “The City”, enabled local newsrooms to digitize their content. Today, the network consists of 45 local publishers and more than 300 media professionals.
After the start of the war, ABO launched a new platform called Evacuation.city to give local audiences necessary practical information about aid, social payments, and accommodation in Ukraine and abroad, and hired 30 editors and journalists who lost their previous jobs due to the war.
In addition, ABO launched two new platforms and a YouTube channel to document the stories of war victims and to provide English-language translations of the best-performing stories from the local newsrooms, which resulted in a significant increase in audience numbers.
ABO’s business model has mainly shifted into relying on foreign donations due to a drop in its revenue from consulting services and advertising.
Launched on the eve of some of the most turbulent days in the country’s history, just before the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, the digital broadcasting station Hromadske became the go-to medium for young Ukrainians in particular, providing an independent, critical alternative to oligarch-dominated media.
Hromadske continued broadcasting despite the Russian invasion, and provides vital information on the war, including stories of the people whose lives the war changed. In May 2022, the outlet re-launched their English-language version.
Hromadske covers important social issues, including minority rights, and revolutionized the digital media landscape in Ukraine on a tight financial budget. The station is financed by non-profit organizations in Ukraine and abroad.
Before the war, Slidstvo.info was a small investigative news outlet known for its in-depth reporting, focusing on stories of corruption and crime committed by Ukrainian public officials, at times facing retaliation from the authorities. After Russia’s invasion, the news outlet’s focus shifted to covering war crimes and producing daily content.
Despite financial struggles, Slidstvo.info has been able to publish extremely detailed reports on the war, using its connections with international journalists, civil society organizations, and ordinary Ukrainians to achieve its goals.
Due to the war, many previously open governmental records are now closed, creating challenges for investigative outlets such as Slidstvo.info. Nevertheless, the outlet continues to look for new opportunities to expose potential corruption, seeking to report on the country’s eventual rebuilding efforts.
StopFake, established in 2014 to fight Russian propaganda and disinformation, is the flagship project of Ukrainian nongovernmental media organization Media Reforms Center. Central to Russia’s war in Ukraine is the Kremlin’s distribution of propaganda and disinformation, and StopFake’s work on verifying information and refuting Kremlin propaganda is crucial not only in Ukraine but also the wider world.
Today, the team of journalists, editors, IT specialists and translators fact-checks, de-bunks, edits, translates, researches, and disseminates information through different platforms in 13 languages.
The Kyiv Independent
The Kyiv Independent was founded just three months before the full-scale invasion by journalists who resigned from the Kyiv Post in protest against suspected editorial interference. Soon after, the Kyiv Independent became the leading English-language news outlet in Ukraine, becoming an essential source of information for readers around the globe on the war.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Kyiv Independent has written stories about the people and places destroyed by the Russian military while also building a news organization that helps to promote free press in the country.
The news outlet has created innovative new strategies for revenue through crowdfunding and partnerships with different companies around the world, and also sought to help other local media organizations through a fundraising campaign. In the face of a prolonged conflict, the Kyiv Independent is aiming for long-term stability and growing the size of their editorial team.
Ukraїner is an innovative media project providing high-quality journalism in several languages, including coverage of multiculturalism and marginalized groups. The outlet’s content introduces Ukrainians of different origin, societal status, geography, and gender in the form of creative storytelling, including videos and photography. The project aims to help define the significance of Ukraine to Ukrainians, telling stories from all corners of the nation.
More than 200 volunteers create content for the platform, whose business model is based on donations and commercial partners. After the start of the war, Ukraїner transformed from a platform focused on travel and leisure to a current-affairs outlet, adapting to the changing needs of its audience.
Ukrainska Pravda (UP), one of the largest online dailies in Ukraine, is renowned for its independent reporting. With the growing probability of conflict in early February 2022, the outlet, like many others, began preparing, purchasing safety equipment, new facilities, and other supplies.
In February 2022, UP saw a record number of readers on its website, and released an English-language version of the site on the same day. Despite this, UP and many other news outlets faced severe financial difficulties as their revenues dropped due to the collapse of the Ukrainian advertising market.
The outlet has successfully applied for grants to continue its operations in reflection of its size and influence in Ukraine. Notably, it has used its position to help smaller news outlets. UP’s English-language coverage has also created partnerships with foreign news aggregators such as Yahoo! News and SmartNews.
IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said:
“Since the beginning of this horrific war of aggression, the IPI global network has stood in solidarity with our colleauges in Ukraine. The country’s independent media have shown tremendous courage and resilience in continuing to to do their job – telling the stories that Ukraine and the world needs to hear, and adapting to serve the changing needs of their communities. They deserve our recognition and our strongest support.”
IMS Executive Director Jesper Højberg said:
“Today Ukraine is fighting not only for its freedom but also for the democratic principles as such. Some Ukrainian journalists joined the military forces, but many of them fight for their rights as free media, to tell the truth, and to document war crimes both for the Ukrainians and the rest of the world professionally and ethically, which is extremely important now. With this prize, we should honor their courage, dedication to fight for free speech and resist the information war.”