Українською читайте тут.
About the transformation from an educational center to a complete comprehensive media in the conditions of a full-scale war, about courageous experiments and loyalty to one's audience.
“Detector Media” continues to tell the stories of three Ukrainian media - the winners of the grant competition from the Stiykist’ Programme, which is held by East Europe Foundation in a consortium of non-governmental organizations led by the French organization ERIM, and funded by the European Union. The heroes and heroines of these texts shared with us how their local media survived during the the full-scale war and offered the audience a fresh and much-needed product. "DM" has already told the sotry of Kharkiv's “Radio Nakipilo”, which recovered online in the conditions of war and even ousted the occupiers from the Ukrainian FM radio frequency. The heroes of the second story - the editorial office of the Zaporizhia newspaper “MIG” - continued to print special editions of their newspaper for Ukrainians who were fleeing from occupiers, despite a lack of funding, despite blackouts, and despite shelling and thepressure of propaganda from the occupiers. The final interview of this special project will tell the story of Lviv's Sebto Media, whose launch coincided with the beginning of a full-scale war, but it did not prevent it from fulfilling and exceeding expectations.
Today it is known as Sebto Media, but in 2018 it was the public organization “Educational Center for Human Rights in Lviv.” A public lecture by a psychotherapist on a Wednesday evening could gather as many as 650 people (and this was 2019, when the mental health topic was not yet mainstream). In 2020, the team considered changing the format, but the pandemic postponed these plans. They finally decided to move away from the traditional idea of a public organization in the fall of 2021. A strategy session held at the beginning of 2022 helped the team answer the important question “Who are we?,” as well as consider new formats to connect more closely with the audience. However, the plan had to be implemented within conditions of a full-scale war. Now, after less than a year of work in the new format, Sebto Media has its own website, a number of unique podcasts, it continues to experiment with text, audio and video formats, and continues to develop a community that has only grown stronger since the rebranding.
Sebto Media director Daryna Zarzhytska and producer Anton Tkachuk spoke to Detector Media about what rebranding and depilation have in common, what solutions helped to build up media and relate to the audience, as well as how to promote “truthful” podcasts.
— Tell us, according to which decisions did you transform the educational center into a media center, even under the conditions of the russian offensive?
Daryna Zarzhytska: From discussions with other public organizations, media, and businesses, I have come to the conclusion that those who learned the lessons of the pandemic have been able to respons to the full-scale invasion more effectively. Our lesson from the pandemic was that, most importantly, you need to have a stable and large audience reach. At that time, we had been working for more than two years, but we did not have the core of our audience. The pandemic also revealed the problem of insufficient critical thinking.
“Previously, the nature of discrimination was essentially associated with hatred. Instead, it is often based on ignorance, lack of critical thinking and basic skills of information and civic literacy”
We began to comprehend that it is not enough to just discuss human rights. It is not enough to explain that it is correct to say "gay" and "homosexual" and why you shouldn't say "homosexualist", why you can't resort to regular sexism. Sometimes this is too little; we need to take a step back and fill the gaps in our school education. The same was with our transformation.
In the strategic session at the beginning of 2022, we had not yet used the word "media" to refer to ourselves. We avoided it: it was too loud for us. That word immediately sets criteria, and we did not really envision how we would meet them. However, for us, the media direction and the expansion of the theme were emerging. We decided to focus more on critical thinking, civic and media literacy.However, human rights will always remain in our main field, because we have aquired serious expertise on the subject without experience on this theme.
At the end of January 2022, just about before the beginning of the full-scale invasion, we determined the formats in which we would work as a media. We planned on podcasts and videos: at that time I was already the host of my Machiavelliki podcast, and the video project “No Fools” was still in production at the Human Rights Education Center.
We understood that our transformation should be prepared technologically, as we were getting ready for rebranding. And then February 24 happened. The partner who was supposed to financially support our transition blocked our activities. We only could afford to pay salaries. Several months passed before we were able to resume work.
In May-June 2022, we actively got to work — we worked with the Gram Branding agency. In 2019, they did a free visual for our No Drama Charity Day event and we won a Red Dot award. Therefore, we wanted continue working with them in the future.
Another important point is the name. Despite super-successful projects like "Psychotherapy for the City", there was a huge problem with the brand. In the fall of 2021, as part of one of the projects, we held a focus group. Imagine: people were ready to donate two hours of their time because they appreciate the work that we do, they like it, and they are ready to come to the event. And it turned out that half of this focus group doesn't know our correct name. On Instagram, we were signed with the English abbreviation ECHR, and people did not know how to read it. At that moment, I realized that we definitely needed to change the name.
“Changing the name can be compared to depilation: you just need to pull and not torture yourself, because you cannot stay with the wax”
It was hard to take the step, but we did it. The process took a long time; we had a visual style but no name. There were several rounds of discussion. We wanted to demonstrate that we provide information, explain difficult themes in this difficult world, but that do not draw conclusions for our audience. At one point we had about a hundred name options, then narrowed down to a shortlist. The name Sebto was not in it. According to the meaning, many liked the option “Otzhe” [Therefore], but the word itself did not sound very good to me. When the deadline for a decision was coming uop, I went to the dictionary of synonyms and saw the word “Sebto.” It sounds so beautiful, and fits the theme, and is beautifully written in both, Cyrillic, and Latin.
— What helped you to stay on the chosen path? After all, the conditions have changed as much as possible.
D.: We had a very challenging year in 2021. The management of the entire organization was transferred to me, and for one of the projects, funding was delayed for six months. The beginning of 2022 was like a breath of fresh air. Everything started to fall into place. But at the end of January, the war was already looming overhead. The rockets did not fly yet, but they could already be felt in the air.
At the time, dinner conversation was only about this, and of course in the strategy session we discussed the topic. Then the moderator asked a question that later defined our mission. She asked hypothetically: “The war starts tomorrow. You have no partners, no funding, no equipment. What activity can you single out as your main focus, but which can be easily done by even one person?”
The answer was obvious to us. Back in November 2021, we started making a newsletter with a review of the latest news, we called it “Morning Dopio.” The idea came to us rather spontaneously when there was a scandal in the media in France about pedophilia in the Catholic Church. We thought that it would be interesting to share our vision of what is going on in the world somewhere besides social networks. I love newsletters and understand that a lot of important news does not make it into our informational space. That's how we began the "Morning Dopio" news review and realized that if things go badly, we can put it together under any conditions.
And so it happened. On February 24, we decided for ourselves that would not go in the direction of humanitarian aid, where we do not have expertise. We decided to do what we do best — to interact with our audience and create content. "Morning Dopio" was published every week on Monday. And that day, on Thursday, February 24, there was a question of whether to issue a newsletter, and whether anyone needs it at all, now. We decided that it was necessary. After the release, people who read us regularly, thanked us in return. They wrote that it was a grounding point that it helped return to a sense of normality. In April, we started making "Morning Post" into a podcast: for whom reading was inconvenient.
It was not an easy product, but it could be created by a fairly small number of people and in atypical conditions. I remember, for example, while I was writing the script for one of the releases, there were 6 air raid sirens per day, and I reflected on this in the text. During the blackouts, in addition to a review of events in the world, it was a review of what we were all living. It is now our leading product and many people wait for it in the morning. I remember the story when the release of the podcast coincided with a mass shelling in Kyiv. On the one hand, people had other priorities besides the podcast, and on the other hand, the following comment came in: “I hear explosions outside the window, and it's good that I can listen to the 'Dopio'.” If at least one person feels better in a difficult situation, then we are doing everything right.
— What new challenges did you have to overcome in the conditions of the new stage of the war?
D.: Initially, I was shocked by the fact that we were blocked from continuing our activities. At that time we had two significant partners. One partner allowed us to divert funds how we saw fit (which is quite rare). The other partner just blocked our activities, which included the upcoming rebranding. It was hard because it was unknown how long it would last. It's good that we were able to pay salaries. Financial stability is a factor that, in conditions of danger and complete uncertainty, allowed us to be more or less stable. So we did not stop working, but if we had the ability to operate with full project funds, we would have been able to do much more. Plus at that point, I felt regret and resentment: it appeared as if we were being rejected. It was as if they were abandoning the idea of democracy in Ukraine in general.
The second challenge is probably the realization that people who have gotten used to us over the years have had a difficult time accepting our transformation. Regarding this, I am calmer, because the numbers speak for themselves. And, thirdly, these are the factor of relative safety in Lviv. Any moment can turn into a tragedy. It's hard to work when you wake up, watch the news and think, “What podcasts can there be? What is there to talk about here?"
— What was the decisive moment for your development within media? How did your podcasts get started?
D.: In April, we began recording podcasts: we continued producing "Morning Dopio" and absorbed my podcast "The Machiavellki" under the Sebto umbrella. We nhave also launched the "Cultural Anxiety" podcast and started looking for new authors.
For some time, there was a severe lack of funding to format the podcasts normally. The opportunity to apply for the Stiykist’ Programme of East Europe Foundation has just appeared. I remember that the selection was not typical for us, because in addition to the grant application, we also had to go through an interview. I think I seemed desperate at that interview because we had gotten so many rejections at that point. I was beginning to think that maybe no one has any need for what we plan to do, since no one wants to support us, despite the fact that we are a public organization with a good reputation.
It's great that they supported us. This immediately gave us confidence, stability and the ability to plan ahead in time, and to experiment. Since we are still just at the start of our media journey, it is important for us to try what works and what doesn't, because we don't have much previous experience. Many of our projects are super novel, and I am not at all sure whether anyone in Ukraine has any similar experience.
In the second half of 2022, we started doing more podcasts because we have already more or less adapted to this new reality.
— Did public organization status help to recieve support?
D.: I think so. This at least simplified the process of obtaining grant funding, since we already had the media registered as a legal entity with a good history. In addition, specifically, the FSE within the framework of the “Stiykist” program, seems to have been looking for NGOs working as media among the potential participants of the competition.
— What kind of podcasts are you releasing now? What do you think is innovative about them?
D.: Part of the podcasts are mady by our permanent team, for example “348 Pages” or “Cultural Anxiety.” But at the same time, we have tried to work with guest authors. The first attempt was a lifestyle podcast with female IT-workers and bloggers, called “Girls didn't have enough trouble”. It's very beneficial: first, we are bringing in a new audience, and second, this gives people a new platform for their voice, which benefits the information space.
We actually suggested East Europe Foundation to hold an audition for new podcast authors. We received about 50 applications. Among them was financial consultant Halyna Trytyak, who proposed to develop a podcast on financial literacy together.
Anton Tkachuk: The team also discussed this topic. Financial literacy is very elusive and personally painful topic for many. At some point in my life, I also realized that somehow I didn't behave properly with money and it should finally be worked on. When we were children or at school, this topic somehow eluded us. It is necessary to talk about the topic of finances, because it leads to the topic of security. Financial Therapy is currently our most popular podcast.
D.: I remember I suggested that the podcast has a reality show format: “Let's find a person who has certain financial problems or goals, and we'll make content around it.” That is, the podcast tells the story of a person and, along with that, how we all should become a little more financially literate. To find the main character of the podcast, we also announced the selection. In fact, a person receives financial advice for free, but for this they will agree to go on record with their personal experiences: their debts, their earnings, and their spendings. The topic of personal finance is quite taboo, and not only in our society. As it turns out, it is embarrassing to talk about financial problems or needs. We understood that this could be a challenge for us. But several people applied. We chose Artem, who wanted to pay off a loan. It seemed to us that the problem of consumer loans is widespread and should discussed. I think this podcast covers the topic of finance in a broad, comprehensive way, so people with other financial questions will also find value in it.
A.: During the recording of the first podcast, about five of us gathered at the table together with Galina and Artem. It was such an intimate experience when a person shared their problems for the first time. And actually, it was very inspiring. “Financial Therapy” is a podcast made as if for ourselves.
D.: When we started “Financial Therapy,” we were still working on the “Academic Flirting” podcast with Pavlo Hudimov and Olia Lozynska. The highlight of that podcast was the tension between the hosts. They discussed various lifestyle and cultural topics. And during the first recording of “Financial Therapy,” I felt that conversation about money is even more intimate.
— If you make your podcasts “as if for yourself,” what podcasts do you listen to outside the production process?
D.: Returning from vacation, I listened to the podcast “Don't listen to while hungry.” We also selected it through our auditions. It is about what and why we eat. The host is Nastya Ivantsova, a gastro blogger and fact-checker. I saw a tweet of her's, saying that she wanted to do a podcast about produce with the sounds of the produce in the background. I believe that the topic of the role of food in the social aspect is also very underappreciated. It is so multi-faceted, and in audio production it can probably be more interesting in some cases than on video. It was a new experience for us, because we were used to dealing with more typically social topics. This podcast is super unique and timely. In 10-12 minutes, it lets you breathe a little, ground yourself and imagine that if you go to the market and make a salad with tomatoes, peaches and soft cheese, then maybe you will feel a bit better at least for a moment.
A.: “Don't listen to while hungry” encourages me to change my daily behavior: to rethink and approach things with awareness, that you feel like you have known for a long time: how to drink coffee differently, or to cook buckwheat. As someone involved in the production, this podcast is interesting to me as a field to experiment with sounds. In addition, we get to taste and test out this food.
We had another interesting experience with the writer, journalist, and activist Alevtina Shvetsova. This is the “Speaking of the Sea: Tales of Mariupol” podcast. She created several family stories about her hometown Mariupol. We are formatting it as an audiobook, which is also an interesting experience for us. Alevtina also entered our competition. Earlier, she was the heroine of the audio series “And we will finish watching Harry Potter,” which told about the people who, due to Russian aggression, had to be evacuated from the Azov region and moved to Lviv to continue their public activity in a new city.
“We remain a young media that is not even a year old, and it is extremely important for us to experiment and feel our niche”.
Because we are young, there are many opportunities to do things differently, and we will use this in production and innovate new formats.
D.: What I value in our team is that we give ourselves the right to make mistakes, both collectively and individually.
“We understand that we can go for experiments because we have not forced ourselves into a standarized structure”.
We are currently searching. There will come a time when we will have to give something up in order to reach a certain slim shape. But I really like and I really value that we are really quite open to experiment.
We even have a podcast about experiments - “The girls didn't have enough trouble”. In the first episode, the presenters avoided reading the news for a week. It seems to me that it is important to renew the conclusions of this experiment from time to time. The conclusion of the experiment was that important news will find you. We do not live in a vacuum. One of the presenters said that she was trying on jeans at the bazaar and nearby someone was walking and talking about the current news.
“Life spent in the news often leads to a weakening of the filters that are responsible for media literacy”.
It affects mental health. The idea that one can read less, but with better quality information, is very timely, in my opinion.
— What kind of audience do you have now? How does it change with your experiments?
D.: I would say that we now have the audience that we dreamed of having even before we were Sebto Media. I remember when we were still an “Educational Center” we imagined a picture of our ideal audience, but our activities did not contribute to the attraction of this audience. When we reformatted into Sebto, that's when we developed the audience that we wanted. We know for sure that we have a stable core audience. That, for which we started the transformation, has a brought results.
— What are you planning in the near future?
D.: The nearest plans are tied to the audience. It seems to me that it is not enough to communicate and promote podcasts. We need to promote the idea of listening to podcasts in general. The segment of the audience that listens to podcasts is smaller than the audience that watches YouTube. This is a relevant issue for podcasting in Ukraine. There is no discussion yet, but right now it appears to me like YouTubers have hacked podcasters. Classic podcasting took off, and then many YouTube shows appeared, and began to use the word "podcast" in their title. Potential audiences develop misconceptions about podcasting.
“Can there be a podcast with video? Yes, there can be. But the truth podcast is primarily focused on the audial experience”
We have a situation where a lot of creators call their product podcasts, but when you try to listen to them, for example, while walking down the street, you won't even hear what they are talking about because it will be drowned out by noise from the street, and because people think primarily about imagery. Therefore, our immediate plans will be related to generally expanding the number of people who listen to podcasts or are discovering this genre. We will continue to work on the podcasts we have now. I think that in the near future we will not launch anything new, but rather we will develop what we already have. We will experiment with audio experiences. We will add a video component, and we expect that after bringing people to Sebto through video, we will "pull" part of it into podcasts as well. We want our community to grow. It, in my opinion, reflects our audience in general. This is a creative class, the so-called “new consciousness” - people who remember the Orange Revolution from their childhood, who, most likely, participated in the Revolution of Dignity, who want to determine what happens in their country.