Why Kyiv Post doesn’t send sto­ries be­fore pub­li­ca­tion

Kyiv Post - - Opinion - JOSH KOVENSKY AND BERMET TALANT KOVENSKY@KYIVPOST.COM TALANT@KYIVPOST.COM

The other week, a Kyiv Post re­porter in­ter­viewed the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe's Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Free­dom of Me­dia. Af­ter the in­ter­view, two of the rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s ad­vis­ers asked the re­porter to send them the text be­fore pub­li­ca­tion.

Our re­porter re­fused, cit­ing our long­stand­ing ed­i­to­rial pol­icy.

A cou­ple of days later, another Kyiv Post re­porter had a sched­uled in­ter­view can­celled with the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund coun­try direc­tor af­ter telling a spokesper­son he wouldn’t send the text be­fore pub­li­ca­tion. It was the first time the IMF had made such a re­quest to the Kyiv Post, and the news­pa­per and IMF have agreed to meet and re­solve the is­sue.

The prob­lem isn’t so much the hypocrisy of two in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions — one that con­demns cen­sor­ship, the other that lends bil­lions of dol­lars to build ac­count­able gov­ern­ments — at­tempt­ing to in­flu­ence Ukraine's em­bat­tled free me­dia.

It’s that Ukrainian new me­dia, mostly un­prof­itable out­lets used as politi­cal weapons by their oli­garch own­ers, par­tic­i­pate in th­ese in­de­pen­dence-de­stroy­ing pro­ce­dures. Ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence among Ukrainian me­dia is rare. So, sadly, ap­proval of texts by a source be­fore pub­li­ca­tion (or “uzhodzhen­nia” in Ukrainian) is still a com­mon prac­tice. We hear this de­mand for “ap­proval be­fore pub­li­ca­tion” all the time — from in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, pri­vate com­pa­nies, em­bassies and govern­ment agen­cies.

Jour­nal­ism vs. PR

A jour­nal­ist in­ter­views a source, writes a story and sends the draft to the source for ap­proval. The source checks the text and adds corrections. At first sight, it seems like a good way to avoid mis­un­der­stand­ings and mis­takes, but in re­al­ity it hands over ed­i­to­rial pow­ers to the source. This is not jour­nal­ism.

Ex­pe­ri­ence has shown that once jour­nal­ists hand over news sto­ries, they lose con­trol. The work could end up far from the source in­ter­viewed. It could land in a dis­tant cor­po­rate head­quar­ters or with a team of PR of­fi­cials who don't merely want to cor­rect fac­tual mis­takes, they want to re­write or cen­sor the piece.

On a prac­ti­cal level, jour­nal­ism would grind to a halt if all in­ter­views were held up, await­ing the ap­proval of sources. But that's not the main rea­son why we refuse -- and we al­ways say no, or at least so far have found no rea­son to make an ex­cep­tion.

Most sources un­der­stand and re­lent af­ter we ex­plain. We don't even blame them for ask­ing.

Ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence

But our read­ers, sub­scribers and ad­ver­tis­ers tell us that they want the Kyiv Post to be com­mer­cially and ed­i­to­ri­ally in­de­pen­dent — and to tell the truth.

Our pol­icy sub­jects us to crit­i­cism and pres­sure some­times. We are re­fused in­ter­views and in­for­ma­tion re­quests. Some­times, we are even threat­ened with law­suits. “This is a very sen­si­tive sub­ject.” “All jour­nal­ists send us texts. We have never heard of such ed­i­to­rial pol­icy as yours.”

“Your in­ter­vie­wee is a very im­por­tant per­son whose words and ideas have to be con­veyed cor­rectly.”

“We have had neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence with me­dia in the past.”

“We just want to make sure the num­bers are cor­rect.” "It's the law." (No it is not.) Per­haps we’d be a richer news­pa­per if we agreed to such re­quests. If ad­ver­tis­ers could buy ad­ver­to­ri­als dis­guised as news sto­ries, if politi­cians could pay to place pos­i­tive sto­ries, or "jeansa," maybe our fi­nances would be stronger. But we don't think so. We want to be­lieve that ad­ver­tis­ers and sub­scribers have sup­ported us all th­ese years be­cause of our fierce in­de­pen­dence and qual­ity jour­nal­ism.

Cor­rect­ing mis­takes

To en­sure ac­cu­racy, we sug­gest — as many of our sources do — record­ing the en­tire con­ver­sa­tion along with us. In the age of the in­ter­net, mis­takes are quickly and eas­ily cor­rected. As for fair­ness, the Kyiv Post was one of the first out­lets in Ukraine to get the other side of the story — and this re­mains our pol­icy. We started this even be­fore the ex­plo­sion of PR pro­fes­sion­als, who some­times serve as ob­sta­cles to the source rather than help­ful con­duits.

Kyiv Post read­ers will get hon­est jour­nal- ism. They won't get per­fect jour­nal­ism. We make mis­takes, but apol­o­gize for them and cor­rect them. We've never been suc­cess­fully sued for li­bel in 22 years. This is quite an ac­com­plish­ment, given our in­ves­ti­ga­tions and the scale of Ukraine's cor­rup­tion and the opaque­ness with which pub­lic of­fi­cials have op­er­ated for much of Ukraine's his­tory as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion.

Busi­ness model bro­ken

The busi­ness model of jour­nal­ism is bro­ken, en­dan­ger­ing the sur­vival of this vi­tal pro­fes­sion. Face­book, Twit­ter and Google first took the in­dus­try's con­tent and dis­trib­uted it freely. Then they sold tar­geted ad­ver­tis­ing around that con­tent. And, as the scan­dal over how Rus­sia used Face­book to spread lies and mis­in­for­ma­tion shows, Face­book, Twit­ter and Google don't check their facts. We do.

Jour­nal­ism is try­ing to re­gain its fi­nan­cial strength with pay­walls and other in­no­va­tive ef­forts. Be­sides the weekly print edi­tion, which sells paid ad­ver­tis­ing, the Kyiv Post is also in the busi­ness of or­ga­niz­ing events as a source of much-needed rev­enue, in­clud­ing em­ploy­ment fairs, con­fer­ences, CEO break­fasts and din­ners. We also edit ma­te­ri­als for clients.

This model makes us de­pen­dent on the com­mu­nity, which is bet­ter than be­ing be­holden en­tirely to oli­garchs and govern­ment grants.

The more high-qual­ity sto­ries we pub­lish, the more rea­son peo­ple and com­pa­nies will have to sub­scribe or buy ad­ver­tise­ments in the Kyiv Post, which — at 40 peo­ple — is still a small op­er­a­tion.

De­vel­op­ing trust

We have reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions with our sources and de­velop trust. We openly send in­ter­view re­quests with out­lines of the top­ics we want to dis­cuss. Rou­tine in­for­ma­tional re­quests, such as those seek­ing sta­tis­tics, his­tory or clarifications, are han­dled quite ef­fi­ciently by email or by phone. We want our sources to be pre­pared. In most cases, this is not a prob­lem — we're in­ter­view­ing a per­son be­cause of his or her ex­per­tise, be­cause they have knowl­edge ben­e­fi­cial to the pub­lic.

Those with some­thing to hide, duck us. Those with noth­ing to hide, wel­come us. President Petro Poroshenko is the top ex­am­ple of politi­cians in Ukraine who give in­ter­views mainly to loyal jour­nal­ists or, in the case of for­eign jour­nal­ists, un­in­formed ones. The best and most con­fi­dent sources rel­ish the ver­bal spar­ring that takes place dur­ing tough and en­light­en­ing in­ter­views.

Another silly re­quest is for a list of ques­tions to be asked dur­ing an in­ter­view. A list of top­ics is fine. But the pur­pose of an in­ter­view is a live ex­change, a face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion, so of­ten the next ques­tion de­pends on the last an­swer.

When it comes to highly sen­si­tive sub­jects and in­sider in­for­ma­tion, we have a long­stand­ing prac­tice of dis­cussing with the source what goes on the record and what stays off the record.

The Kyiv Post is a mul­ti­lin­gual place. We can com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple in the lan­guage in which they are most com­fort­able — Ukrainian, English or Rus­sian. All of th­ese prin­ci­ples un­der­pin our com­mer­cial and ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence. A free press is vi­tal to the fu­ture of a demo­cratic Ukraine. Today, un­for­tu­nately, many me­dia out­lets that aren't politi­cal tools of bil­lion­aire oli­garchs have no busi­ness plan at all other than to ap­ply for the next govern­ment grant.

The Kyiv Post's suc­cess de­pends on sup­port from a com­mu­nity that wants bet­ter — that wants in­de­pen­dent, fair and hon­est — not per­fect, but hon­est — jour­nal­ism.

Jour­nal­ists from Ukrainian out­lets wait to be called on at a press con­fer­ence by President Petro Poroshenko in March 2016. Many Ukrainian out­lets are will­ing to sac­ri­fice ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence to their sources by al­low­ing them to ap­prove what is writ­ten be­fore pub­li­ca­tion. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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