News Services Help Journalists Break News, Bring Stories to Wider Audience Knight Fellow Transforms Operations at Serbian News Agency

Aug 102010

Shortly after Knight International Journalism Fellow Miodrag Savic created a unique, online “tip sheet” as part of a newly redesigned website in Serbia, reports from the public began pouring in... two dozen in the first week alone.

The Beta News Agency's redesigned website allows the public to submit tips that sometimes lead to documented, professional stories. Among them, an exclusive story about a case of possible police harassment in northern Kosovo, near the Serbian border. Reporting such cases – including allegations of government corruption – can be almost impossible in the war-torn region unless witnesses are willing to step forward with details.

Through Savic’s work, the new, high-profile online section allows tipsters to submit suggestions anonymously. On the front page of the agency’s new website, the section can be readily accessed by clicking on the tag line "Javite Beti," or "Let Beta Know." Those amateur stories are funneled to professional reporters and turned into well-researched and documented news stories.

The tip line is part of a comprehensive revamping of the Beta News Agency led by Savic during his Knight Fellowship, which ended in July. The goal was to help Beta – a vital source of information in a Balkan region still recovering from decades of ethnic conflict – become more useful to its readers and more profitable. Tensions along the Kosovo-Serbia border can run high, even during peaceful times.

The transformation also included launching a new Beta service that delivers stories in the form of 130-word text messages sent to subscribers’ cell phones. The service is already available through one cell-phone provider, and efforts are underway to extend the service to users of the two other Serbian mobile networks, which will vastly expand Beta’s reach.

Savic’s guidance on the website redesign has given readers their first opportunity to post their own contributions. In the claim of police harassment, a citizen reported that Kosovo police were abusing their power by refusing to acknowledge the validity of drivers’ licenses issued by Serbian authorities. After the report was posted on the new site, Savic says, "police officials pledged to carry out a thorough investigation."

They have since agreed not to exercise their authority in a harsh way. One of the first stories that came in through "Javite Beti" included allegations of police harassment.

Other tips posted so far include government conflicts of interest, worker strikes, consumer protection issues, fatalities, swine flu, even sports and entertainment events.