Oleksandr Kharcenko, Director General of Ukrinform

Oleksandr Kharchenko (Director General of Ukrinform): It depends on news agencies themselves whether their importance will continue to grow. Those who are not ready for rapid change cannot count on success.

Online numbers seem to be higher for Ukrinform than at the beginning of the corona-crisis, but financial numbers will be reviewed at the end of the financial year. Overall, the crisis seems to have benefited Ukrinform, and can also prove beneficial to all news agencies, according to Oleksandr Kharchenko, the agency's director general.

How did you experience the corona-crisis as the manager of Ukrinform? Which were the main challenges?

If we consider challenges in sequence, the first challenge for me, as well as for most of my colleagues from other countries, was the operational restructuring of remote work during severe lockdown restrictions. The issue concerns a technical component (quickly ensuring work from home and optimal shifts in the office) and a change in the management process (shifting from face-to-face meetings and communication with customers to online forms). It is also about psychological questions that are sensitive to each manager, as to whether people will work remotely as responsibly as they work in the office. We managed to deal with this restructuring quite quickly.

The second longer-term challenge was commercial. In our case, lockdown has significantly affected the work of our press centers from a financial point of view. Ukrinform has three fully-equipped halls with the possibility of online broadcasting for events in Kyiv. It has become physically impossible to hold press conferences. We switched to online events as fast as we could. We will be able to fully assess this situation in terms of income more accurately by the end of the financial year.

At the same time, if the first two challenges are tactical, the third one is strategic. The corona-crisis has given us a new understanding of where we can save and, at the same time, in what areas we have to invest. For us, it means greater mobility, increasing the volume, and improving the quality of video content.

Many agencies reported an increasing role within their own national media landscape. How is Ukrinform situated now in Ukraine?

Ukrinform remains the leader in the Ukrainian information market in terms of compliance with journalistic standards. This is evidenced by the monitoring of reports by major Ukrainian news agencies, which has been carried out on a regular basis by a Ukrainian non-governmental organization for more than three years.

Among the Ukrainian media, Ukrinform has the largest network of regional and foreign offices and produces its news stories in eight languages: Ukrainian, Russian, English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Polish.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Ukrinform's website traffic increased sharply, by almost four times. We would not be able to achieve such results so quickly with an advertising campaign and optimization. Reliability matters! As is also the case with many other news agencies, the share of content related to the coronavirus crisis could initially reach up to 90% in total news output. Today, these figures have decreased, but they are still higher than before the lockdown.

Do you foresee any permanent changes to the way Ukrinform works for the times after the pandemic?

Undoubtedly. As for the work of staff, there will be no single approach, it will be flexible. Each of Ukrinform's departments has its own specifics. We analyzed reports by the heads of departments on the experience of working remotely. We will leave everything that worked effectively. In addition, we are updating our development strategy in accordance with the lessons learned. First of all, the changes will concern the provision of technological processes and new sources of income.

Which are the top three roles a news agency has, in your opinion, in crisis times?

It is a red light to spreading panic and fake news and a green light to providing the most complete and reliable information about everything that worries society because of this crisis, about the world experience and positive stories.

How do you see the future of media in Ukraine and worldwide? Will news agencies' importance continue to grow or on the contrary?

If the question concerns the future after the corona-crisis, then in the case of Ukraine, I would not exaggerate the impact of this challenge. Most media outlets in Ukraine have already adapted to it as a new reality. The main lesson is that we must be ready to respond at any time to any large-scale crisis that no one has ever predicted.

Therefore, it depends on news agencies themselves whether their importance will continue to grow. Those who are not ready for rapid change cannot count on success.

News agencies should have not only people who are successful at the moment and perform the functions that are currently in demand by the information market and society, but also those who are able to respond in a mobile manner (a kind of a mobile response force as in NATO), and also those who are a few steps ahead and are the first to track and evaluate changes and new trends that now come not only from the sphere of media and technology, but also from national and global crises.

That is, news agencies, in addition to their ability to quickly publish news stories, must also have the ability to quickly make or review complex managerial and organizational decisions according to new circumstances. 

Interview by Alexandru Giboi (EANA Secretary General) for the "EANA Top Voices" project.