Batumelebi newspaper Editor Eter Turadze takes us to the newspaper office after discussion held at Batumi Press Café. At the Press Café she spoke about the media environment which has changed after elections. On the way to the office we were discussing the same topics. Her experience can be seen in all her assessments. Right at the entrance to the office I smell paper; there is a whole bunch of newspapers there and I understand that the given calm house is Batumelebi office.
“We were not journalists, circumstances made us journalists,” Eter Turadze starts recalling Batumelebi history from 2001. That was the time when Adjara was governed by Aslan Abashidze’s government and it was not very loyal to different opinion.
“We had protest against that regime and later we realized that it was the fight for freedom of speech. It appeared that publishing the newspaper became such a fight from the beginning. Even for very peaceful articles there were inadequate reactions; physical abuses and so on,” Eter Turadze said.
The motto of the newspaper has not changed since – You have the right to know! Batumelebi Chief Editor says that people must be informed and they make the decision themselves on how to plan their lives. Batumelebi has been trying to inform readers since 2001.
The newspaper is weekly so it covers the important stories of a week. Ongoing news is being circulated via Batumelebi.ge website. According to the newspaper Managing Director Nana Kvachadze they try to make emphasis on human rights – “despite the fact that those stories are not always very interesting to readers and they are more anxious to see scandalous stories and rumors,” Nana Kvachadze said.
Six employees work on the website and the newspaper. They have a correspondent in high-mountainous Adjara who sends news from three municipalities – Keda, Shuakhevi and Khulo. They go the rest of the municipalities from Batumi and try to cover ongoing news this way.
At some moment Batumelebi decided to involve citizens in newspaper content creation. They let readers to submit issues problematic to them and then a journalist would prepare a material. Nana Kvachadze says that the interest was not as high, as they expected.
“This could have been reasoned by the fact that in regions there is no high availability of the Internet. Meanwhile we had plans for the regions. Many things happen in municipalities and they are not covered by media so citizens often have hard time to know that for example whatever happens in your street is very important,” Nana Kvachadze stressed.
She believes that Batumelebi expresses interests of the Batumelebis (Batumi residents). They try to prepare articles not only on the events taken place in Adjara. Local stories take up approximately 60% of the newspaper; rest is dedicated to events underway throughout Georgia.
“We do not want to write only about the stories from the city or region as quite interesting things are happening outside of it and we must tell our readers about them. Quite often Batumelebi information becomes primary source for other media outlets,” Nana Kvachadze says and recalls several cases in confirmation of her wards. For example TV 25 (Batumi) story when Batumelebi found out that the TV-Company has been sold long time ago and the owners were concealing the given fact. Or the article – “16-year-old girl’s first wedding night at the Police” – almost all types of media showed interest to these topics first printed by Batumelebi.
Most important stories printed in the newspaper are also posted on Netgazeti.ge which is owned by Newspaper Batumelebi LLC just as the newspaper Batumelebi itself.
Nana Kvachadze believes that confidence in the newspaper has increased during last few years. This was primarily reasoned by their main principle – every story must be checked and reliable.
“That is why public information is very important for us. We cannot imagine preparing an important article without documents. We’ve always had problems with getting information from public bodies. The situation relatively improved after the elections,” Managing Director stressed and said that for the publication it does not matter who will be in the government. Batumelebi has never been a side so it remained as it was before the elections, she said.
Main source of revenue for Batumelebi is a grant allocated by IREX. According to Eter Turadze the given amount is approximately 70% of the total revenues of the newspaper; the remaining 30% come on sales, advertisement and subscription.
“Still advertisement revenues are not from business advertisement. These are the revenues when mainly NGOs pay certain amount for publishing their information,” Eter Turadze stressed. According to her, the lowest, 3-7% share comes on business advertisement in their revenues.
“Until 2008, during one year we did not have any grant and at that time 30% of our revenues came on advertisements and we were self-financing. I think advertisements must reappear now,” Chief Editor said.
For the moment Batumelebi has a new project – the newspaper founded a media-school and 24 students are learning journalism there. Eter Turadze believes that the given generation will improve the defects that Georgian media has today in view of knowledge.
In 2009 newspaper Batumelebi received press prize by the Norway Institusjonen Fritt Ord and German ZEIT Foundation. The given annual prize is given to eastern European and Russian newspapers, Internet-publications and journalists that sustain independence in the condition of repressions and financial troubles, do not obey censorship and do not practice self-censorship.