5 years bringing the changing post-communist world to the web

During a month of anniversaries for post-communist Europe, Prague's Transitions Online has also been celebrating an anniversary - that of its own transition. The non-profit English-language web magazine covers news from the developing democracies in Europe and Asia that emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. Five years ago, it rose out of the ashes of Transitions magazine and established a network of correspondents stretching from Prague to the Ulan Bator. Eric Martin spoke to the magazine's director and editor-in-chief, Jeremy Druker, at a recent birthday celebration.

"The goal is essentially to cover Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union in a way that is different from the mainstream media or the newspaper that you'd pick up every day or in your hometown.

"It was our feeling - and I think it's still the case - that this region is only in the news when there's a war or a crisis or an assassination or something big. But usually people don't know what's going on. There are also a lot of confusing small countries and a lot of confusing names for people.

"And we wanted to try to make some sense out of all that, to give it context so that people know the history of why this war had happened and why this person had become president, and just to cover issues that ``weren't coved by the mainstream media - things like human rights, minorities and gender rights, along with all the politics and the daily grind."

Five years ago what had been a print magazine became a website. Why did you take it to the Internet?

"We had no choice. The magazine had been published for a number of years ... but was incredibly expensive to produce. ... The magazine essentially collapsed, and all the management left. A couple of us - I was a staff writer then, the copyeditor, the tech guy and an intern - decided to found a new organization and take everything over to the Internet as a solution to the high cost of printing and distribution.

Were there any benefits to that change?

"Obviously, there were huge benefits in terms of marketing and just people finding about us, because with a print magazine you have to do a lot of advertising in other print magazines. You'd have to spend a lot of money so people would hear about it at all. With Internet, even in those earlier years, it was much easier to do marketing and get the word out with targeted emails to people we thought would be interested."

As far as within the countries that you cover, what difference do you think Transitions could make?

Photo: European Commission
"A large part is that hopefully we're transferring high standards of journalism - international standards of journalism - along to the people who work for us, who because their countries were closed off by communism for so long and because the transition since then in those countries, really haven't had a taste for writing for a professional publication that tries to live up to international standards.

"And there's this trickle down effect. They learn, hopefully, good standards from us, and then they eventually move up the ladder and assume leadership positions in their own countries and in their own media.

"The second thing is, I think there's still a great value to doing regional comparisons, which we try to do a lot. And some of the countries that are farther behind on their transition can really learn about what went right and what went wrong in this part of the world. We really value those types of articles and hope that people farther east will take something away from reading our magazine and just try to implement things that went well in their own countries."