European Federation of Journalists

Poland: Engaging local communities to fight government-funded “news” portals

TuŁódź is an independent Polish news portal that reports on local and community media in central Poland city Łódź and the surrounding area, among which is Piątek. No independent news existed in this area so TuŁódź decided to start writing about this commune as part of the Local Media for Democracy (LM4D) project.

TuŁódź is a traditional newsroom that covers a wide range of local and community news topics. With only 2,000 inhabitants, Piątek is normally a news desert. TuŁódź felt that this project was important to the local community as the people who live there have no information on important stories and events occurring in their areas. 

“TuŁódź launched a new hyperlocal website for a small town and news desert Piątek, launched E-newsletter and developed an automated solution for crowdsourcing information,” explained Iryna Vidanava, media business viability expert at IMS and the LM4D project. “It is one of the strongest projects from Poland of the LM4D Media Funding Scheme.”

In Poland, similar to some other Central Eastern European countries, the local government has its own so-called town-hall media – which are government-funded information portals that compete with local independent news. Such competition has pushed out independent local media from the market. “We have the same situation in Łódź,” explained TuŁódź editor-in-chief and journalist, Joanna Chrzanowska. “The local government portal is our biggest competitor.”

As part of this project, they launched a live chat with readers so they can inform the newsroom about what to write. This allows journalists to have access to information and events from Piątek while also improving their engagement with the community. This project has been so effective that TuŁódź is replicating it in neighbouring communes like Pabianice.

“Thanks to this project, we could implement a model like Piątek to other neighbouring towns,” said Chrzanowska. “This project allowed people to become closer to journalists and show them what we are doing. It was very important for me to attend the LM4D workshops on audience engagement and the one-to-one sessions, to also see how things work in another country and another newsroom.”

According to the first-ever comparative study on news deserts in the EU, the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) found that Poland scores very highly on all risk indicators, specifically on editorial independence. 

“In all the talk in Poland about how media freedom is crucial to the well-being of democracy there is a huge gap when it comes to the independence of local media from local authorities. Few talk about this and even fewer are willing to do something about it. Countless local governments use public funds to publish their own media which lauds local leaders and drains local advertising markets of funds crippling independent media. The best test of this is to take a local newspaper and count the number of times in any issue it publishes a photo of their local mayor or rural area head,” Krzysztof Bobinski from the Society of Journalists says.

In many regions,  the only local media are local government media, most often at the service of politicians holding power in the region. They also have a lot of money, whereas most local media like TuŁódź cannot compete with such a budget.


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