By Alba Kondirolli
Besa Luci has kept busy since she was a KAEF fellow at the University of Missouri. After graduating with a master’s degree in Journalism and Magazine Writing, Luci co-founded Kosova 2.0, an independent media organization, that sheds light on issues of injustice, discrimination, human rights, and current affairs in the country and the world. Initially launched as Kosova’s first blogging platform, K2.0 grew to become an established media outlet with an ever-growing audience. K2.0 is also the only medium in the country that publishes in three languages – Albanian, English, and Serbian- a testament of their dedication to deepening the understanding of issues and establishing cross-cultural links between the country and the region.
Luci belongs to one of the earliest generations of KAEF fellows. She credits her time at the university and the courses that she took in magazine production as the catalyst for founding K2.0. While in Mizzou, Luci was also able to build her portfolio by working in her university’s daily newspaper, the Columbia Missourian, as well as attend prestigious editorial internships.
This year, K2.0 is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Together with Luci, we discussed her decennial work as the editor in chief of K2.0, the impact and their biggest achievements in Kosovar journalism, and what the future holds for the magazine.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Kosova 2.0. Just two years before you co-founded Kosova 2.0, you had emerged as a fresh graduate of journalism and magazine writing from University of Missouri, one of the best journalism schools in the U.S. Can you describe us what motivated you to start this media organization?
For me, Missouri played a huge role in how I went on to develop and grow as a journalist. I already had a journalism background because I had a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the American University in Bulgaria, and then immediately upon graduation, I got a scholarship from KAEF to study at the University of Missouri. [Therefore,] I was already aware of the fact that it had an amazing journalism program, one of the best in the U.S.
When I had gone, initially, I had this idea to become more of a newspaper, daily reporter. That is how I saw myself getting engaged in journalism. But when I went to Missouri, I ended up taking classes in magazine writing and a whole new world of journalism opened up for me. It was a direct influence from the faculty and the professors who were teaching magazine writing. I immediately saw how magazine writing offers so many opportunities to talk about what shapes and what makes a society, and by really putting the focus on the lived experiences, the various kinds of experiences of people who make up the society.
So, I had already started thinking of making my own magazine while I was in Missouri because I already took classes in magazine writing, magazine editing, and magazine production. I really got engrained in all the production processes of putting together a magazine. When I graduated and came back to Kosova, I came back with this idea, this preliminary sketch of starting a magazine. I am extremely grateful and happy to have had this opportunity, to have attended Mizzou, and to have had those amazing professors and to learn so much from them.
In the latest issue of the magazine, on your Letter from the editor, you mention some of the political and social backgrounds that shaped the founding of Kosova 2.0. Can you talk about the role this played on starting this media outlet?
When I moved back, I just noticed there was a gap in the media environment and in the media landscape. What I thought was lacking was these in-depth human-driven stories. There was a lack of diversity of voices being heard, read, or seen within the media. At that time, I was younger, and I thought that the voice of the youth and the different perspectives challenging so-called established truths and narratives were completely absent. Everything was taken for granted on the way of how things were. I thought that there was so much debate and discussion that needed to be brought, not just within Kosova itself, but also by making links between people here, in the region and the world. Also, having those links and connections based on issues and commonalities, what we can share and learn from one another, as well as how we can broaden the way we understand the world around us.
These were some of the things we were discussing at the beginning of Kosova 2.0. How can we create this platform where people have the space to talk, to write, to challenge, to debate? We did this by launching the blogging platform, but also by creating a space for a different kind of journalism – journalism that goes in-depth, journalism that listens to people, turns statistics into relatable human experiences, talks about different forms of injustice, journalism that seeks accountability. These were two things we were interested in doing, all the while broadening the debate and our understanding of issues and processes. This was the idea behind it. Also, this is why we had it written from the beginning in three languages, Albanian, English, and Serbian, because we wanted to have it in all these languages available to be able to establish more links, to be more read, and have larger participation.
Your article and stories are brave, they cover a diverse array of topics, and most importantly, they portray people who are not frequently represented on our news channels. How do you think this form of writing changed the journalism in Kosova?
There was feature writing, of course, even before Kosova 2.0. I think we contributed towards the blogging format in the beginning when we started. K2.0 was the first blogging platform.
In the meantime, there have been smaller media projects that have been established, there is more and more interest in the younger generation of journalists to do human-driven stories about discrimination, different forms of inequality and injustice, in-depth investigations that are narrative driven. I feel K2.0 contributed by showing the power of that format. The power of this kind of narrative journalism format is that it helps people understand what discrimination means, what injustice means, why human rights are important. It really helps to make it relatable to people who might not have had that experience. So, I feel like we contributed to expanding the understandings and expectations from journalism as well.
If you have one media outlet, one editor, one journalist working in something substantial, it contributes to the overall profession of journalism. It is difficult to measure and see it directly, but it contributes. Especially today, I see the young generation of journalists and there is so much drive, potential, curiosity, and social responsibility. It is a different kind of generation of journalists and I want to believe that we somehow contributed to that, from our journalism and programs.
Do you think that the Kosovar audience welcomed these articles?
Yes, but I also think we have to bear in mind that K2.0 is not read mainstream; it has a smaller audience. I think it has been very well received and it continues to be. We sometimes receive an email or a message by a reader or someone who is thanking us for the work that we do or for a specific article that has changed their perspective. For me, when we see those kinds of messages it means so much, it means more than potentially having one million viewers in a day. You see the impact, what you have done with the story.
Recently, this is everywhere and also in Kosova, with the changes that journalism has been going through, with the fast news and everything shifting online, people are going back to wanting quality and substance. They are not satisfied with having just bits and pieces of information. They want to contextualize, they want things explained, they want to understand the bigger story. My assessment is that people are also asking for this kind of journalism, and we are one place in Kosova that offers this type of journalism. Especially, the younger generations. There is this stereotype of the younger generations that they are too attached to social media, and want everything visualized, but I think that they want something better, more substantial.
You mention the human-driven stories that K2.0 focuses on, and the feedback that you have received from different people in Kosova. Do you think that this has been your biggest achievement so far? When it comes to journalism in Kosova, what do you believe has been the biggest achievement of Kosova 2.0?
I do not know what I would call the biggest achievement, it is difficult to talk about the ‘biggest’ achievement. The people I mentioned are from Kosova but also, a lot of them come from the diaspora. It still amazes and mesmerizes me how much we are read by our diaspora and what kind of meaning and impact we have for them. As we are now in our 10th year, we see that we are constantly reaching out to new members of our diaspora. As young people become teens or enter adulthood, we are constantly gaining new readers from our diaspora. From their comments, we understand how impactful [K2.0] it is, how it opened up a completely different view and understanding of Kosova, and how they end up relating more with the country.
In terms of the biggest achievement, there have been different kinds of issues. With journalism sometimes you can have a direct impact on a policy change, sometimes you can have an impact on a larger societal issue. For example, our Sex issue that also had a full section of LGBTQ rights, was a big changer in Kosova because it broke the culture of silence when it comes to speaking for LGBTQ rights in Kosova. It is very unfortunate what happened, and it is frustrating the attack we faced when we launched this issue, but in the long run the positive impact was so big because it broke the culture of silence. So much has changed for good. This was a big achievement.
Another article with big impact was when we wrote about segregation that was happening in the public transportation in Fushe Kosove or Obilic, where Roma citizens were made to sit at the end of the bus. It caused a reaction even from the institutions.
I always have trouble naming ‘one’ thing, I guess it is the same with achievements. Learning and growing together, having so many different young journalists going through K2.0, whether be staff or from our programs, is something to be happy about. I also see that as an achievement.
There are 22 people working in K2.0 but hundreds of others who volunteer and help prepare these articles. Is there a lesson you would like to share that you learned from the people you have worked with throughout these 10 years?
Huh! I do not know if it is a lesson! I guess it is a lesson in process, and it would be “how to balance the need to be self-critical.” Especially in journalism, there is this need to be self-critical, see how we can better improve, how we can listen to more stories, how we can do a better job at telling those stories, how to change, how to adapt, what is really the public interest…I think there is this need to always be self-assessing, but then how do you balance all that and be able to look back at the work that you do and think that you are doing something important and good.
I see this tendency to be extremely self-critical even at my colleagues, but I think sometimes we need to balance that, in order to appreciate what we are doing. This is a lesson in process. I still have not figured it out, but I think it is important to take those moments, especially when you are working with bigger teams, where everyone feels that they are included, appreciate the larger common work. Especially as we have grown over the years this has become more important.
With the rise of social networks, we have seen an increase in the spread of factually incorrect news. This seems to have worsened with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. What is your suggestion and advise for people in Kosova, when it comes to finding credible news and making informed opinions?
We really need to take the time to check the sources. When I say this, I mean to check who is the outlet publishing this story, who is the media behind the information. It is an easy thing to do. So, check if there is transparency, information on the author, are they credited, are they bylined… If there is no information on the media outlet, that definitely raises a red flag.
On one hand, technology has brought more diversity in news publishing in general but also it is requiring us to be a bit more critical on what we are reading, to know how to check what we are reading, and to make sure it is a credible source. I do not think it is necessarily that different from before. Back in the days, people bought a certain newspaper, but they had information on the editor, the writer, the publisher. You can and you should do it with online sources as well.
What is next for Besa Luci and Kosova 2.0?
We are at this point where we are seeking to expand and diversify online storytelling formats. It is an extremely exciting moment for us as we are slowly going more into podcasts and multimedia in general. We are just looking at improving how we tell stories in different formats and visually as well. This is our plan for K2.0 with the journalistic content.
Besides this, we also have a lot of programs and mentorships that we do, however due to the pandemic this has changed a bit, because we do most of our programs at this physical space which serves like a hub. As for now we are slowly thinking on how we can as a media organization increase our self-generated revenue and build up a different financial model, where we continue to be a donor funded organization but also not rely only on that as a source of income. This is a general struggle of a lot of media outlets but there are different kinds of creative ways on how to diversify forms of revenues. This is definitely the next stage for us.
Do you think that there is an audience in Kosova that is ready for these multimedia formats of sharing news?
I think there are people who are ready, and there are people who are not. To put it simply, if you do not offer quality journalism, people might forget to request for better journalism. If you do not offer or show a different way on how stories can be told, then there will not be a request for it. Examples need to exist. The more there is of us doing this, the greater the request will be from the public. Because it is so important to keep in mind that our primary responsibility is to the people, to the society. You have to show what is possible, and then more and more people will ask for it.
We decided this theme [HOPE] last year and then the pandemic happened, which of course nobody could have predicted it, but it ended up making it even more relevant. All these problems that we are now talking in the light of the pandemic, were already existing. The pandemic has only made them more visible and that is why the hope issue tied in nicely.
A lot of people commented that it was exactly what was needed, to be critical of hope but also to reimagine hope. Something I learned that was important throughout this process and with the pandemic, is that this idea to go back to normal and people wanting to go back to normal– but actually let us not go back to normal, the normal was not that good. Let us see how we can change and improve. This was something important that I took away from all of this.