Politis — A Hungarian experiment in media and civic engagement

Gergely Dudás, the former editor-in-chief of Index, one of Hungary’s main online news sites, has launched an experiment that will test whether there is enough civic engagement in Hungary to build a high quality, independent news publication purely through community support. The site, Politis.hu, sounds a lot like a Hungarian version of Politico: it will focus on domestic political reporting and in-depth analysis, targeting the most politically astute and engaged readers. Mr. Dudás’s notes that Politis won’t be beholden to political interests or those of corporate advertisers, nor will it force good journalists to produce click-bait type material aimed at simply directing as much traffic to the site as possible from social media, at the expense of quality reporting.

According to Mr. Dudás’ plans, Politis.hu will be accountable to its readership. Readers will pay a reasonable amount of money to subscribe to the news site, which will operate behind a paywall. But to make this happen, and undoubtedly to test whether this model is even possible in Hungary, Mr. Dudás is using the Indiegogo platform to raise €990,000 from readers who are willing to effectively give him an advance, before the site goes live in spring 2018. Since these funds are being raised through Indiegogo, Mr. Dudás has a strict deadline of two months to raise the full amount. If he fails, Indiegogo will automatically return each subscriber’s contribution. In other words, this is an “all or nothing” venture. Raising anything less than nearly one million euros will mean that the Politis project is over and each subscriber will get back his/her subscription fee.

The annual subscription fee for Politis is €33. That, of course, is a perfectly reasonable amount for a site that promises to provide high quality reporting and analysis geared to a well-educated readership. But Hungarians are no longer in the habit of paying for their news. From a Canadian perspective it is astounding that Hungary’s largest national daily newspaper, Magyar Nemzet, only sold 16,000 copies per day in late 2016, according to numbers tabulated by an independent media auditor called MATESZ. Népszava, the second largest national daily, sold 10,000 copies per day.  The 168 Óra political weekly magazine sold 13,000 copies per week, while Heti Válasz sold 12,000. Élet és Irodalom, a political and literary weekly, has a total print circulation of around 13,000 and less than 2,000 readers pay to have access to articles digitally through the ÉS website, which is behind a paywall.

In a country of nearly 10 million, fewer than 100,000 Hungarians pay for national daily newspapers or serious political weeklies.

Mr. Dudás’ experiment in explaining to Hungarians that they must be willing to open their pocketbooks if they want quality reporting is fascinating and it will be revealing to see the results. If Mr. Dudás succeeds in raising the required funds, he will hire a team of 30 journalists, many of whom currently work for other Hungarian publications, but are forced to waste their talent and skills on writing click bait articles or adhering to party and oligarchic interests.

The Politis logo

In light of the demise of the rule of law in Hungary, Politis.hu will be published by a company recently registered by Mr. Dudás in Vienna. This Austrian company will own a subsidiary in Hungary. Mr. Dudás is also building this project on his own professional credibility. After all, he is a known and respected player in Hungarian media, having served as editor-in-chief of one of the nation’s most prominent online publications for four years. That publication, Index, was sold in a rather murky manner earlier this year to interests tied to Lajos Simicska, who also owns Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. Mr. Dudás resigned a few months later. Index is still one of the best publications in Hungary, but it is widely believed that there are certain lines in the sand that it cannot cross.

In the first three days of launching his initiative, a total of 600 people became paid subscribers of Politis.hu, raising €29,000. Mr. Dudás has around 57 days left to reach his goal. If he succeeds, Politis will at once have a much larger paid readership than any serious national publication in the country.

One Comment

  1. I will try this, although it seems a difficult task,
    bearing in mind the pretty good work done by index, átlátszo.hu, 24.hu, hvg plus other investigative journalists.

    Contrary to other places where business usually grows by mergers and acquisitions, in Hu business is often destroyed by splintering or internal feuding. Otherwise some pooling of materials and profiling would be a more efficient way to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *