Bonner is an American journalist who has been with the Kyiv Post since 2008 as its chief editor (and once before in 1999). In the USA, he worked mainly for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the second largest newspaper in Minnesota, for more than 20 years. He also has worked for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as an election expert and for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C., as associate director of international communications.
WAN-IFRA: The web site [http://www.kyivpost.com] is in both English and Ukrainian/Russian. But the printed paper is in English only. Why the dichotomy?
BONNER: The newspaper started in 1995 as the nation's first English-language newspaper. Eventually, in 2002, we launched a website; in 2010, we decided to make our stories accessible to the Ukrainian and Russian language audience, since the percentage of English speakers is still quite low in Ukraine. We are hoping for a broader audience, but had to scale back our Ukrainian/Russian language project due to stiff competition in this sector and a weak advertising climate online.
WAN-IFRA: What is the business strategy online – only advertising on the basis of pageviews, or something else in addition? What advantages do registered users have over other visitors? Any plans for a paywall?
BONNER: Eventually the entire industry will have to go to a paywall, including the Kyiv Post. Newspapers made the mistake not doing this from the start of the Internet age, in my opinion. Giving content away free online that you're trying to sell print advertising for is a losing strategy. Publishers mistakenly got caught up in the hype that if your site has enough pageviews, the online advertising will be sufficient. It isn't -- and it will probably never be enough to sustain most news operations. That's why local community newspapers have been successful with paywalls and the big players -- The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, among them -- are likely to stick with paywalls.
The Kyiv Post was profitable from 1995-2008, but since the crisis, we have been struggling to break even.
WAN-IFRA: What are the most successful aspects of Kyiv Post? What areas would you like to develop further for the future?
BONNER: The Kyiv Post strives for the highest professional standards -- we have adopted the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists. Unlike most Ukrainian media, which are owned by powerful and politically connected oligarchs, we have no partisan political agenda. Hence, our motto is: Independence. Community. Trust. We really take seriously our international character -- our staff is international, and so is our readership. So we try to be a general interest newspaper that everyone can trust -- politics, business and entertainment are the cornerstones of our coverage. We call ourselves the World's Window on Ukraine, and it's certainly true for English-language readers.
We, like other news organizations, want to make a successful transition to the digital world. Our priority, however, remains the print newspaper because we believe it will be in demand for several years to come in Ukraine as a growing number of Ukrainians speak English. We are trying to capture new advertising through supplements and guides, such as a recent one we published called "Lifestyle Elite." We'd like our Ukrainian/Russian-language site to succeed commercially and attract more readers, but that is still a long-range hope.
WAN-IFRA: What is your staff size, and how is it broken down in terms of nationalities, positions, etc.?
BONNER: The news staff includes 17 people, including four foreigners -- three Americans and an Australian citizen. The rest are Ukrainians. Some of our full-time staff also have freelance assignments and other work; we have a small group of regular freelancers. The top editors have been native speakers of English, because our readers expect the stories to read well.
WAN-IFRA: Do you have any plans to increase your frequency of print publication from weekly to biweekly or daily? How often is the website updated?
BONNER: We think the advertising market and readers are not demanding any more frequency than once a week; we'd be ready to publish more frequently if we thought it would be commercially successful. We try to update the English-language website continuously 24/7, but in practice we have the staff to currently update it daily and on weekends from about 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. [07:00-21:00]. We are undergoing a new upgrade of the site now.
WAN-IFRA: How are you using social media?
BONNER: We are on Facebook, Twitter and Vkontakte (a Russian-language version of Facebook), but we certainly could have a stronger presence, particularly on Twitter. We don't currently have the money to hire a full-time social media editor.
WAN-IFRA: What is the most high-profile investigative journalism the paper has undertaken?
BONNER: We've done a lot of work exposing the nation's offshore havens, and their cost to the nation as a whole, including these stories:
- "The Money Carousel" – http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/the-money-carousel.html#.T-HTe5F1wrA
- "The High Price of Havens" – http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/high-price-of-havens.html#.T-HT25F1wrA
- "Ukraine Goes Offshore" – http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/ukraine-goes-offshore.html#.T-HUwpF1wrA
And many other hard-hitting stories about government, politics and alleged corruption.
One series that stands the test of time is this one:
- Ukraine's Greatest Crimes, Tragedies and Injustices – http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/ukraines-greatest-crimes-injustices-other-traged-2.html#.T-HUHJF1wrA
WAN-IFRA: What has your experience been with freedom of the press – or lack thereof – in the Ukraine?
BONNER: Free-press conditions are better in Ukraine than in most of the rest of the post-Soviet neighborhood and we are grateful for that. We also have a publisher, Mohammad Zahoor, who has been willing to defend freedom of the press since he bought the newspaper in 2009. We are also read by an international business community and diplomats, who have time and again supported the Kyiv Post's freedoms. However, the media climate is not healthy in Ukraine. Most newspapers, radio stations and TV channels are owned by one of five billionaire oligarchs who willing to lose lots of money in exchange for having their outlets serve as political platforms or levers of influence. There's simply too little advertising to support the number of existing news organizations -- so the losses are subsidized by rich owners, often but not always to the detriment of independent journalism. The Kyiv Post's publisher, fortunately, doesn't interfere with news coverage but sets his policies and expresses his preferences, as he should, about the overall focus of the newspaper.
Political pressure will never go away. We have successfully defended ourselves against a libel lawsuit in London filed by one of Ukraine's billionaires. We also, from time to time, face criticism and pressure from government officials and some businesspeople over what we publish. We also understand that politicians have been wanting to buy the Kyiv Post for a long time -- we think to eliminate it as a source of independent journalism. Fortunately, the newspaper's two owners -- Jed Sunden and Zahoor -- would never let this happen. So in general, we are very fortunate.