Society and human rights issues stand out as the most-covered topics
The majority of independent digital native media featured in this report said they cover society and human rights issues. Many media leaders told us they started their news organisations to provide coverage for underrepresented communities and audiences, including refugees and the LGBTIQ+ community.
The Serbian media outlet Mašina publishes information about society, labour rights and movements, women’s rights, the environment, politics and culture. Mašina sees itself as a “space for the production of social criticism“, aiming to foster a critical approach to information and research beyond the daily news.
To better quantify the coverage areas of the media we studied, we identified 12 main topic areas, which you can use to filter media in the Project Oasis directory. In our interviews with media leaders, we broke these down into more specific sub-categories to better understand key areas of coverage.
Although you can only search our Project Oasis media directory by the top 12 categories, in each of the individual media profiles you will find a complete list of the topics they cover, including the sub-categories.
The most popular categories of content cited by media in this study are:
- Society and human rights, with 87%
- Politics, with 84%
- Economy and business, with 73%
- Environment, with 71%
- Entertainment and culture, with 62%
- Education, with 60%
Because the majority of the media featured in our directory selected “society and human rights” as one of their primary coverage areas, we’ve included its sub-categories in the table that follows.
More than half of digital native media do investigative journalism
To better understand how these media organisations share their news and information, our questionnaire included a list of 10 journalism genres.
Nearly 89% of the independent digital native media in our directory said they publish content by conducting interviews to report on topics, 75% said they primarily publish opinion pieces and 64% do investigative journalism.
Many of the media in this study play a crucial role in holding power to account in the countries where they operate. “There would be almost no investigative work done in Slovakia without media like Aktuality.sk or Denník N,” concluded our Slovakian researcher, after creating nine directory media profiles for a country which has a population of about 5.5 million people.
In Slovenia, Oštro publishes investigative and data journalism, because its team is determined to nurture the “right to know“ as a fundamental human right. It publishes in-depth local, national, regional and international investigative journalism, with the goal of spreading knowledge and inspiring future generations of journalists.
But in Slovenia, as in so many other markets, media leaders also told us that investigative journalism is costly and requires long-term investment.
“We have to find new business opportunities for survival in the market. Journalism investigation [has become] not only a risky genre, but also a very expensive one. Modern tools and technologies cost money; staff training takes a long time and needs investment in the profession,” said Kristine Barseghyan, the executive director of the Hetq investigative media outlet in Armenia.
The Hetq team, which has contributed to award-winning international investigations, including The Panama Papers, was the first publication to adopt a code of ethics and to introduce the practice of working with investigative teams in Armenia. Hetq publishes articles in English and Armenian.
Declines in website page views drive digital media to social platforms
Several of our study participants in Turkey said that despite soaring social media engagement, they were concerned that website page views have steadily declined over the last few years. Media leaders there said general news fatigue was a likely factor.
The 2022 Digital News Report, published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, supports this theory, noting news fatigue in Turkey was “not just around Covid-19 but around politics and a range of other subjects — with the number of people actively avoiding news increasing markedly”.
Semih Sakallı co-founded Mesele Ekonomi in Istanbul in 2018. His team primarily features expert opinions focused on political economy, through a YouTube channel. Sakallı said he is working to build a sustainable business model through revenue from advertising and sponsorship on YouTube. He also highlighted the importance of LinkedIn, which has helped them to build connections with potential advertisers.
Kutsal Motor, also founded in 2018 in Istanbul, shares information primarily through a YouTube channel, with a focus on entertainment and culture, politics, and society and human rights.
In 2022, the founders of Fayn Studio, a Turkish business offering video content services for journalism organisations, local streaming services and visual brand consultancy for NGOs, launched Fayn Press to publish their own explanatory short videos and posts on social media.
Co-founder Şükrü Oktay Kılıç told our researcher that he foresees Instagram will be the primary place for growth for the outlet, with solid engagement metrics. By spring 2023, the outlet had more than 100,000 followers on Instagram (an almost tenfold increase compared to autumn 2022, when we interviewed the organisation).
Messaging platforms increasingly popular for sharing news
Many of the digital native media in this study also use messaging apps to share information directly with their audiences, with Telegram standing out as the most-cited app, followed by WhatsApp and Signal.
In Ukraine, our researcher found that Telegram is the most prevalent messaging platform used by digital media there. Ukrainian media outlets have been using Telegram since the Euromaidan uprisings in 2013 (which is also when the messaging app first launched), as well as more recently to share news and other vital information during the ongoing war.
The second most-used messaging platform is WhatsApp, which was most popular among media in Spain.
Media in Spain and Montenegro reported using Signal, and in Serbia and Switzerland, we found media using SMS-based text messaging to share content.
Innovative journalism techniques build audience engagement
Digital native media throughout Europe are producing news and other information using a variety of innovative journalism techniques and formats. From solutions journalism to fact-checking, to slow journalism to satirical news sites, digital media leaders told us they are attracting audiences that are disillusioned by the constant barrage of clickbait news, misinformation and polarising tactics practised by many of the other news outlets in their markets.
Among the examples we found, Armenian outlet Urbanista produces solutions-oriented journalism with a focus on architecture and local government initiatives in the country’s urban areas and in other parts of Europe. It also conducts interdisciplinary research on urbanism and urban governance.
Urbanista has produced a variety of journalism projects, including Interactive City Budget, a project that investigates how the budgets of 12 Armenian towns are distributed; Women of Borderland, which shares the perspectives of women in urban developments; and Rethinking Post-industrial Cities, a web documentary on the past, present and future of four Armenian cities.
In Sweden, our researcher found the independent digital media landscape to be diverse and innovative, both in content and in form.
Newsworthy, to name one example, was founded in 2016 as a news service for local, data-driven journalism in Sweden. Its business model is based partly on subscriptions, but mostly on producing commissioned content for companies and organisations.
Newsworthy’s automation technology and experience in data journalism enable the creation and distribution of local press releases with high efficiency, quality and impact.
The platform’s subscribers include editorial offices, public administrations and civil servants in Swedish municipalities. With a stack of tools for process automation, including natural language generation, Newsworthy can produce over 300 local news feeds. In 2021, the media platform published more than 40,000 articles.
The potential of slow journalism
Several media outlets in our directory have built an audience with slow news journalism, focusing on publishing deeper dives with reporting that takes more time to produce — and read.
Edasi.org is an Estonian longform magazine “for people who are exhausted from the attention economy, and who appreciate thorough and objective slow journalism”. It publishes essays and analysis, and features topics ranging from lifestyle to society and politics, which are meant to give readers more time and space to think.
“Our goal is to be like The New Yorker of Estonia,“ said founder Janeck Uibo. He calls the magazine a “small miracle“ because despite early challenges, the venture is now making a profit, and expects to continue growing in the future.
Edasi.org, which was founded in 2016, keeps most of its online content behind a paywall, and extends its reach with a quarterly print magazine. Its small team augments its coverage by calling on more than 30 regular co-authors.
In Ireland, our researcher found digital native media practising slow journalism, and proving they can build financially viable enterprises with this approach to news. Tripe + Drisheen, Donegal Daily and Dublin Inquirer all reported that they have built sustainable business models by attracting audiences with in-depth local news coverage with a focus on current affairs and politics.
Covering niche topics helps build sustainable organisations
In the Lithuanian media market, our researcher found digital native publications building financially viable ventures by focusing on niche topics.
Founded in 2021, Aikštėje produces a podcast and website focusing on architecture, urbanism and public spaces in Lithuanian cities. The project was initiated and coordinated by a collective of writers and architects, and is managed by the umbrella NGO Architecture Foundation.
Among its innovative approaches to reporting, the Aikštėje team has examined the concepts of “home and homeliness”, by inviting the audience to approach the subject from many different points of view — from philosophy to building typology, which is the study and documentation of buildings according to their essential characteristics. They also produce a series of podcasts on architecture.
Digital media use community-driven journalism to build engaged audiences
To better understand the often innovative ways these media organisations cover the news, we included a question with 11 common journalism techniques, including: explanatory journalism, which aims to provide more in-depth context to foster understanding of a topic; collaborative journalism, where organisations work together and share resources on a project or story; and engaged, community-driven or participatory journalism, which seeks to include the audience in selecting topics and reporting.
The techniques employed by digital native outlets in our media directory include:
- Explanatory journalism, with 77% (417 media)
- Collaborative journalism, with 60% (324 media)
- Engaged, community-driven or participatory journalism, with 57.5% (311 media)
- Data journalism, with 51% (277 media)
- Fact-checking, with 45% (243 media)
- Breaking news, with 44% (239 media)
- Cross-border journalism, with 42% (225 media)
- Chronicles and non-fiction, with 29% (157 media)
- Information services (including jobs boards, roadwork notices, construction notices, weather reports), with 22% (120 media)
- Satire, with 18% (96 media)
- Graphic novels and comics, with 14% (77 media)
West Leeds Dispatch in the UK is an example of an organisation practising engaged, community-driven journalism. Since its founding in 2015 as a non-profit social enterprise run by West Leeds Community Media, the local news outlet has put the community first, according to its founders.
Thanks to its “people-powered community newsroom” and a free community reporter course, it has grown to a team of more than 60 contributors, who have published more than 1,000 articles. A six-week reporting training programme led by John Baron, co-founder and editor of West Leeds Dispatch, equips new team members with the skills to report their own stories.
Community reporters write stories with support from more experienced writers and editors in the community newsroom. Local volunteers and businesses have also contributed to the creation of this collaborative news venture.