A crowdfunded news outlet that bills itself as Russia’s “free press in-exile” has seen its funding completely severed by the descent of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new iron curtain, cutting Russians off from one of their few remaining independent sources of information.
The Latvia-based outlet, Meduza, has published stories in both English and Russian since 2014, relying on a combination of advertising revenue and donations from readers. That changed drastically in 2021, when the Kremlin branded the news website a “foreign agent” and ad revenue evaporated.
Some 30,000 Russian donors stepped in to make up the difference, according to the outlet. But now that sending money into and out of Russia is virtually impossible, Meduza is once again facing an existential crisis.
Meduza’s editorial staff in Russia fled the country at the start of the war ― some on foot, in the middle of the night ― and are now scattered across Asia and Europe. Though Meduza’s website has been blocked in Russia, the outlet says millions of Russians continue to read via the outlet’s app and encrypted messaging apps, like Telegram. (Meduza has produced a number of joint investigations in the past via a partnership with BuzzFeed, HuffPost’s parent company.)
Now Meduza is getting a signal boost from news outlets around the world in a bid for new members.
“We ask you to take the place of our dedicated supporters from Russia,” the Meduza staff wrote in a crowdfunding appeal. “We have a duty to tell the truth. We have millions of readers in Russia who need us. Without independent journalism, it will be impossible to stop this monstrous war.”
One of the outlets pitching in is Krautreporter, a crowdfunded German news cooperative that offered to help lead the crowdfunding effort after reading about Meduza’s plight on social media.
“This is one of the few shots that Russians have at getting independent reporting and good information,” Krautreporter publisher Leon Fryszer told HuffPost, emphasizing the two outlets share no formal, professional relationship. “I think there needs to be a counter-force to what the Kremlin is doing now, and Meduza has a good chance at being that.”
“It’s something very practical that we can do for Russians in a situation where sometimes it feels like you’re paralyzed because you can’t do a lot,” he added.
Despite the setbacks, the staff of Meduza is still hard at work. In the past they’ve exposed everything from the presence of Russian mercenaries in Venezuela to the machinations of Russia’s propaganda apparatus; these days it’s mostly 24/7 war coverage.
“Meduza is very popular and that’s a huge responsibility because a lot of people rely on us for factual information that nobody else will have either the experience, the resources or the will to report,” investigative reporter Alexey Kovalev told the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford.
“We are immensely proud of this. It’s an incredibly physically and mentally taxing job. But it still energizes me to know that for so many people now we are the only lifeline, the only window to the world.”
BuzzFeed News reporter Stephanie Baer contributed reporting.