Supporting a Cornerstone of Democracy Through Journalism in Romania

 

The following information and answers were submitted by Victor Cozmei from Romania. Victor is a coordinating editor and reporter for HotNews.ro. He is an incoming Central and Eastern European Journalism Program (CEEJ) Fellow. The CEEJ program was postponed and the fellows will be arriving in the U.S. to begin their fellowship in the spring. Until then they will be participating in a webinar series and will be highlighted through a CEEJ blog post series. Q&A Series with CEEJ Fellows Pt 10: Victor Cozmei.

What is your topic or content interest and why? 

I am an exclusive online journalist and I say that because I’ve been working only online since my time at university. I’ve been a reporter for HotNews.ro, the site I work for since 2008 and I slowly grew and developed there. So, I started as a collaborator, I’ve been a reporter, and now I am also a coordinating editor there. But I still keep my role as a reporter that does fieldwork. So I try to cover [a] diverse range of topics. I mainly report on infrastructure, defense, some reporting on politics, or social issues. I am very keen on data journalism and on data-driven articles. I am a very tech-oriented journalist having worked mainly through the online mediums, so I am interested in multi-media stuff, interactive content, interactive maps, graphs, and a lot of video pieces that I do by myself.

What brought you to the area of journalism, what made you want to become a journalist, is there someone who inspired you?

Well, when I was younger, I developed this kind of curiosity about everything. And I had an appetite to know something about everything. If you asked me back then what I want to be when I grow up, I would easily reply that I want to be an astronaut, or I want to be an architect, or be a professor, a golfer, or footballer, you name it. That kind of mentality to be curious about stuff and be good at a lot of things didn’t allow me to pick one, like “ok, I am going to be a doctor.” So this shifted my decision to become a journalist because I wanted to know as much as I can from as many fields I can manage, sort of “jack of all trades,” good at a lot of things but not proficient in one thing, like a journalist could know a lot of things. In terms of who has inspired me, besides all of my senior colleagues, my editors with who I worked since I joined HotNews. I had an elderly teacher at my university in my first two years, who gave me very basic and punctual advice that stayed with me, and that keeps repeating in my head every time I write. He said something along the lines of “if something you write can be misunderstood, then it will be misunderstood, there is someone out there who will read that wrong so try to be as clear and as explicit as you can be.”

Why does journalism matter?

I think that journalism, the honest one, the journalism with integrity – that’s one of the cornerstones of democracy.

I mean, if you have honest and responsible journalism, then you create the base for transparency between the states, the public and the private sector. Journalism should also spark a dialogue between these parts to put everything out there. There is also the old saying that journalism is the watchdog of democracy and it matters because, through proper journalism and in-depth reporting, you can put the spotlight on wrong-doing and injustice. Nowadays with all the noise, the abundance of fake news, this kind of journalism is more needed than ever.

What is your primary challenge as a journalist in your country?

I think it’s a two-pronged challenge, there is an external challenge where I have to deal with obstacles, and attaining information especially from state authorities, they sometimes willingly want to block you from attaining certain information. Or the system is so poorly built or is too bureaucratic, or unnecessarily complicated that you cannot find useful information on time. The other challenge is an internal one coming from within the media landscape. I mean there is a lack of credibility due to false and biased reporting. Some outlets give a bad name for everybody. So, it is hard to sometimes approach a topic because people see you not as being in pursuit of the truth but searching to mislead or to do someone else’s dirty work.

What is your current understanding of freedom of the press in your country?

In Romania, the media has a culture, in many news outlets, that encourages censorship and self-censorship. Editors, directors and also reporters that agreed to that, that refuse to publish information and articles that may damage someone’s interests, usually a politician, the state, or the owners. And that’s explicit censorship. There is also self-censorship, where reporters or editors know that outlet-owners have different businesses going on, so they try to avoid reporting on something that might damage them. Basically, that’s editorial policy that is subordinated to owner interests. That is the biggest threat to freedom in Romania, and I think in the World Press Freedom Index, Romania is somewhere down around 50th place from the last year. There is also the pressure from authorities on different media outlets either to reveal their sources or to refrain from being critical. And also, there is pressure from authorities on media organizations that do critical reporting. They send checks to IRS equivalent authorities that go and check a lot of stuff to find damaging information about that media outlet. And also, there is a problem with GDPR in Europe, and now in Romania, because a lot of not only public authorities but private sector companies, go after journalists, basing their arguments on GDPR to threaten and prosecute journalists on their investigative reporting [based on GPDR elements].

What is the one thing you are most looking forward to during your program in the US?

I was lucky enough to visit the US in 2014 through an IVLP program. And then I got to see in-depth the city of New Orleans and I got to discuss with journalists matters that they feel are important there. I was surprised to see how different the topics and the approach was there in Louisiana than what I saw in Washington, DC. Those kinds of different views, topics, and the way [how] to approach [these] type of things, I want to experience in my time in Detroit. We saw, for example, in one of our webinars how much focus [the] media puts there on the Great Lakes. This is something that I never gave too much consideration to. That’s a kind of different perspective, different views and different experience I want to help me broaden my horizons.

What are some of the things that have colored your impression of the U.S. and what are you hoping to accomplish with this fellowship?

My first impression of the United States came from movies, books, magazines and news.

When I got a chance to visit [there], I got to experience parts of real day-to-day life. I was surprised by a lot of small differences here and there that show me how similar we are but also [how] different things in our day to day life. For example, store prices not having tax included or the tipping culture in America. And stuff like that made me want to delve deeper and find out how it influences daily life there compared to back home.

What I want to accomplish in this fellowship, I want to learn a lot about new types of reporting, about new ways of approaching the different topics, and new organizational culture in the newsroom. I want to experience a lot, from a professional standpoint but also personal: looking, hearing, touching, knowing new stuff. And also, besides the US element, I would like to get to know my Eastern and Central European colleagues. Maybe form a bond, a connection on a professional level that may help us all in the future wherever our jobs take us.