Published: 20 May 2021
“There are a lot of solutions out there that nobody is writing about. It’s not that PressOne is positive but it’s always balancing things – showing the problem, how it can be solved and what you can do,” explains Adrian Mihaltianu, managing director for Press One.
For Civitates’ partners from PressOne, an independent journalist organisation based in Romania, public-interest journalism is “a powerful way to make people understand the reality that surrounds them and a powerful tool of change” as Adrian Mihaltianu, PressOne’s managing director, shared. PressOne’s long-term work on uncovering degree plagiarism among government officials led to the shutdown of the doctoral schools of the police and a thorough examination of all the doctoral diplomas issued by these institutions. This is just one example of how PressOne makes a difference in Romania by covering fact-based stories of public interest and keeping a watchful eye on practices that can affect citizens’ trust in their institutions, as a way to protect democracy.
PressOne’s unique approach towards in-depth investigations is that the publication explains a problem but also provides a possible solution. “There are a lot of solutions out there that nobody is writing about. This is what I loved about PressOne the first time I read it. It’s not that it’s positive but it’s always balancing things – showing the problem, showing how it can be solved and what you can do,” explains Adrian. For Ioana Epure, editor in chief, journalists need to question the role of journalism in our societies as “it makes us see things from different angles, reposition ourselves and try not to go with the flow. When everybody else is writing about something, we try to think about topics that nobody else is covering.”
Why is presenting a solution important?
Adrian: Such stories inspire change. For example, we have a lot of pollution in our cities. We show the sources of pollution but at the same time, we show how a small village in the north of Romania managed to increase its recycling to 75%. That is a story people can learn from.
Ioana: We don’t want to depress our readers. When you look at media, it looks like everything is doomed, like we are on the verge of an apocalypse. I don’t think it does anybody any good to make them feel so bad about the world they live in. If you instill only anxiety in your readers, you are going to paralyse them with fear. It’s not productive and it’s wrong from an ethical point of view.
What do you look for in a story? How do you pick a story to cover?
Ioana: For me, the story must be relevant to me. I trust my intuition a lot when choosing a topic to cover. The second criterium is that it should make a good story. I am looking for people that have something to say. I don’t like building stories out of facts and numbers. There always has to be somebody’s real-life perspective behind it. As editor-in-chief, I sometimes come up with all sorts of ideas but unless someone feels inspired by one of those ideas, they don’t need to go after it. Our journalists are free to write whatever they find relevant.
Adrian: PressOne is not built as a hierarchy where the editor in chief sets the agenda for everybody. The journalists come with their own stories what gives us a lot of diversity. We choose stories that bring something new, something important to the values we believe in. We take our time to go where nobody else has gone or to explore new angles to a story while trying to help our readers understand better what’s happening.
How would you position yourself in the journalistic field in Romania?
Adrian: We are an independent media outlet. We indeed have funders and sponsors, but they never interfere in our editorial process. This is what differentiates us from other Romanian media. Then, we are honest, without a hidden agenda, we cover stories that deal with human rights, disenfranchised communities, vulnerable communities, and topics that inspire people to change for good. We talk about sensitive questions. At the same time, we are going towards crowdfunding, we position ourselves also on social media channels and we follow how people react. We have a lot of people that wrote to us after the release of our series on pollution, for example. We are now in conversation with them trying to go beyond what the usual journal does.
Ioana: We are different because we are trying to remain objective. We are not social justice warriors – we are not trying to convince people of anything. We are showing them what is happening and allowing them to make their own decisions.
How do you achieve this balance? Isn’t it difficult to be objective?
Iona: You can never be 100% objective, but you can choose your words carefully.
Adrian: The truth is only one. We want to understand what the truth is and expose it as it is. This requires a lot of fact-checking and presenting facts in an understandable way that provokes emotions in people. What’s happening now in the media is that people write and share only emotional stories. When we write a story, we look at the facts to check if they support our points of view. Sometimes we start investigating with a certain presumption and we see that we are not right. So, it is a process.
Is there a story you are proud of?
Adrian: We have published articles about the police and plagiarism, articles that dismantle networks of disinformation in the Romanian social media, a video about pollution that led to the shutting of a polluting factory. Our articles have an impact and this is what makes me proud.
What is the future of journalism?
Adrian: As a technology writer, I think the future of journalism will depend on the technical means we are going to use in ten years. Many things will go to audio and 3-D video. Local stories will have a comeback. Media will move more and more to social media channels. We are already using them for creating communities and giving platforms to those communities. I believe this will continue.
Ioana: When I started writing, the press was about giving information and staying objective. At some point, it became more about opinions, especially on social media. Then the press decided to share perspectives and that snowballed and now the media is more about opinions and political orientation than information. I think we will circle back to journalists being neutral and just informative.
You experienced enormous audience growth last year. Is it still the case and how do you explain it?
Adrian: Social media especially Facebook has been instrumental for that. Our growth is mainly in the viewership of our investigative videos.
Ioana: We did a lot of fieldwork and were very well in tune with what is happening around us and I think that helped a lot.
What is coming up for PressOne?
Ioana: We are hoping to do more fieldwork than last year. We want to find something new to deliver to our audience. We have very loyal readers that have been reading us for a long time and every once in a while, we try new angles, also from a technical point of view. We are playing out with a few things. In the long run, we don’t want to follow what everyone else is doing. We want to be the ones that set up the trends, that make people talk about certain topics.
PressOne is an independent journalist organisation founded in 2015 that focuses on investigative journalism, social issues, solutions journalism and fighting disinformation and fake news. PressOne’s main goal is to strenghten Romania’s democracy by providing high-quality journalistic insight to its readers through in-depth, long-form articles with a 360-degree approach and a balanced tone.