Micro newsrooms and one-person media

North Macedonia’s media audience is shifting to online media, while the resources, money, and people still remain in the traditional media, particularly in the major television stations with national concessions.

A Eurostat survey conducted in 2021 showed that 72 % of North Macedonians get their information from online media. An October 2023 Eurometer survey, by the Skopje-based think-tank Eurotink, meanwhile showed that over 56 % use the internet as a source for political news. 

In 2016, only about 30 %of respondents said that their first source for political news was the internet. In 2022 and 2023, that percentage grew up to 40 %, almost 50 % in one survey. At the same time, the influence of television as a primary source of information fell from almost 90 % to 70 %, and the percentages of radio and newspapers as primary sources are within the statistical error margin.

This data confirms the results of previous national surveys conducted by the International Republican Institute, IRI, which also showed that the influence of the internet in providing citizens with information about general and political developments is constantly growing. Online content is becoming not only one source, but the main source of information.

On the other hand, financial data for 2021 and 2022 show that the growth in influence of online media is not resulting in any growth in their financial capacities. When it comes to money, the media business still revolves mainly around television, and partly around newspapers.

The total revenues of the 13 most influential news websites in the country for 2021 barely exceeded $1.9 million. For 2022 they did not even reach $1.7 million. By comparison, the least successful national televisions earned revenues of around $2.2 million, and the most successful passed the $7-million mark. The most circulated newspaper earned about $1.6 million in 2022 - almost as much as all these portals combined.

An assessment based on data obtained from the largest advertising agencies in the country, which control more than 90 % of the advertising market, shows that up to 60 % of advertising money goes into television, 20 % to online media, 15 % is spent on outdoor advertising, and the remaining 5 % are distributed between newspapers and radio stations. This market analysis was published in 2020 as part of a study conducted by the RESIS Institute, a Macedonian think tank for social research, which addressed the impact of new media on public opinion.

Political Advertising as a clue to the Online media market

It is difficult to precisely estimate the volume of internet news business in the country, as there are no registers or databases listing every news-publishing website. A rare opportunity to get a broader picture of this scene is provided in election cycles, as online media then apply to the State Election Commission to register for political advertising and receive money from the state budget for that.

The experiences of the previous two election cycles  in 2020 and  2021 show that between 175 and 235 portals submitted applications, but less than half of these were media with editorial teams that publish various news and information. A large number were without an imprint, some had hidden ownership, others were special-interest portals, news aggregators, even websites of hosting companies and business directories.

The elections have also revealed the trend towards the creation of “mini groups”, in which a single person or company registers several internet portals in order to be able to earn more money from the elections. The legal limit is 15,000 € ($15,800) per media, so they try to double or even triple their election earnings by operating multiple addresses.

Even though the data is incomplete and insufficient, it still shows the dispersion of resources in the online space, as opposed to their concentration in traditional media.

No Journalist in the Online Newsroom

Another indicator of the fragmentation of the media scene on the internet is the data on the number of employees in these media. Official data for the companies that publish the three most influential portals, with the largest number of followers on social networks, show that these three do not have a single registered employee. In many others, the number of staff is in the single digits.

A rare exception are the editorial offices of the Kurir and Republika into which Hungarian capital entered in 2018. These have 17 and 19 employees respectively, i.e., they operate small editorial offices. But that comes with a price. The companies that run these portals are experiencing significant financial losses.

All in all, the online news scene seems reduced to “micro-newsrooms” or “one-person” media. Even the largest ones are nowhere near to having the resources needed to produce higher-quality media content as opposed to republishing agency news and announcements.

The existing environment inadvertently paves the way for opportunistic and politically affiliated individuals to infiltrate the media market, armed with meagre resources and a potent agenda of influencing public opinion through the channels of propaganda and substandard journalism.

The proliferation of numerous, albeit low-resourced, online media outlets exacerbates the situation. Rather than fostering a diverse spectrum of voices, this abundance paradoxically results in a cacophony of homogenised news. The deficiency of original reporting becomes glaring as these outlets, constrained by resources, find themselves caught in a loop of regurgitating identical news.

This is not merely a threat to the essence of journalistic integrity but also poses a significant risk to the democratic ideal of an informed public. 

  • Project by
    Global Media Registry
    Funded by European Union