Case Study: How Hungary’s Independent News Outlets are Building New Revenue Models
A small but determined sector of independent news organizations in Hungary are pioneering new ways to adapt and survive.
In an environment dominated by well-funded progovernment outlets, independent news organizations in Hungary have been forced into precarious situations. However, a small but determined sector of independent news organizations are pioneering new ways to adapt and survive—while also warding off the looming risk of interference or capture by hostile owners. As part of this study, editorial leaders at the independent outlets Telex, Klubrádió, Átlátszó, and Partizán shared their sources of financial resilience.
Turning to audiences as a resilient source of support
Amid scarce advertising revenues, Hungarian independent outlets have increasingly turned to their audiences to help sustain their bottom line. One of the most recent experiments is the crowdfunded news site Telex, which was created by a group of colleagues who made headlines when they resigned en masse from the well-known news site Index in 2020, decrying overt attempts to exert pressure from above.1 After creating a Facebook page and a YouTube video asking for people to support their new initiative, some 25,000 people contributed to Telex’s initial fundraising campaign within five days of launching the site in September 2020.2 “When we ask our readers, ‘Why do you donate to Telex?’ They say basically two things,” explained Veronika Munk, founding editor of Telex. “One is that they really believe in press freedom and they want to contribute to it, and the second is that they want to keep it open because of its public service function so their grandmothers and their children can read it.”3 Microdonations alongside advertising income and grants continue to support a hundred-strong team at Telex, reflecting robust support from audiences willing to pay for high-quality content.
Independent radio station Klubrádió started appealing to its audience for funding in 2012, when revenues fell dramatically after government interference with its broadcasting license made it difficult for the outlet to attract advertisers. When the national regulator eventually revoked the license in 2020 and forced it off the air in 2021, Klubrádió urged its audiences to migrate online.4 While it lost some listeners, it also developed a presence on various social media platforms, and appealed to a broader range of users beyond its original radius in Budapest. According to editor in chief Mihály Hardy, crowdfunding now covers approximately 80 percent of its operational costs, although it still operates a limited staff which includes two full-time news reporters.5
While audience revenues are an important ingredient for sustaining operational costs, grants also help outlets to pursue and grow resource-intensive investigative reporting projects. This is the case for the nonprofit investigative journalism outlet Átlátszó, which sustains itself mostly through audience revenue, microdonations, and income tax donations, alongside grants from international donors.6
One percent can make a difference
With inflation reaching 25 percent in early 2023,7 many independent outlets in Hungary expressed concern about people’s ability to maintain their rate of donations. However, outlets that have set up a foundation or nonprofit organization have been able to make use of Hungary’s 1 percent law, which allows taxpayers to donate a percentage of their income taxes to support the activities of a nonprofit.8 Organizations become eligible after three years of operation, and these donations can provide additional financial relief from audiences who want to donate to a worthy cause at no additional cost.
After launching Partizán as an independent television station on YouTube in 2017, host and editor in chief Marton Gulyas has ambitious goals for upcoming funding campaigns. “If we can build a strong presence and run a great campaign,” he said, “then we can easily get thousands of one percents from different citizens in the country. And that would be a steady, reliable, and absolutely nongovernmental source of funds.”9
Building trust through transparency about funding and costs
Emerging outlets are also producing detailed transparency reports to build trust with their community of supporters. Telex regularly publishes transparency reports with updates about developments and finances, and in late 2022 launched a campaign to educate audiences about the costs of running an independent news outlet.10 Direkt36 has an established policy to disclose information about any donors who fund more than five percent of their total revenue.11
Such policies, however, may present a risk for donors who are cautious about being publicly acknowledged in a high-risk environment, as well as for the outlets themselves. Over the past year, progovernment media in Hungary intensified attacks against outlets receiving foreign funding, including Direkt36 and Átlátszó, even though most of their funding still comes from Hungarian audiences.12
For many outlets, transparency takes precedence. Veronika Munk explained how Telex aims to be an open book: “If there are accusations, we can say that we communicate about everything we are doing, and it means that our audience and our donors can believe in us. It seems that they do, because we are still sustainable with this system.”
Organizational structures repel interference and capture
For investigative outlets like Direkt36 and Átlátszó, which focuses on monitoring public spending in Hungary, independence from any kind of business interest remains vital for the integrity of their mission. Aware of issues that can arise from interfering owners, they opted to establish themselves as nonprofit entities. For the founders of Telex, ownership was also a contentious issue given their former experiences at Index. This resulted in the decision to create a staff-owned model, which is unique in the Hungarian market.13
While multiple threats continue to hamper their work, independent outlets in Hungary have continued to report on political and social developments that are generally sidelined from mainstream progovernment news—from covering protests demanding changes in the Hungarian education system, to reporting on issues affecting sexual and gender minorities, to organizing interviews and debates among opposition politicians. Their experiences showcase how people still appreciate the value of professional journalism and are willing to step in to support their mission.
- 1Krisztina Than, “Hungarians launch crowd-funded news site as Orban allies gain sway in media,” Reuters, October 2, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-media-website-idUSKBN26N2JO.
- 3Interview with Veronika Munk, founding editor and head of content development at Telex, February 7, 2023. Note: Veronika Munk since left Telex in April 2023.
- 4Attila Mong, “Hungary’s Klubrádió owner András Arató on how the station is responding to the loss of its broadcast license,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), November 9, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/11/hungary-klubradio-andras-arato-loss-broadcast-l….
- 5Interview with Mihály Hardy, editor in chief of Klubrádió, February 7, 2023.
- 6“Átlátszó – The first nonprofit center for investigative journalism in Hungary”, April 2021, https://english.atlatszo.hu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/atlatszo-2020-an….
- 7Gergely Szakacs, “Hungary’s sticky inflation exposes rift between government and central bank,” Reuters, March 8, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/hungary-cbank-chief-calls-govern….
- 8Council on Foundations (COF), “Nonprofit Law in Hungary: Country Notes,” February 2021, https://cof.org/country-notes/nonprofit-law-hungary.
- 9Interview with Marton Gulyas, host and editor in chief of Partizán, January 30, 2023.
- 10Andrea Horváth and Kárpáti Márton, “Telex’s fifth transparency report,” Telex, December 21, 2022, https://telex.hu/english/2022/12/21/telexs-fifth-transparency-report; Julia Lerch and Miklós Jenei, “Why does Telex cost HUF 2,400 per minute?” Telex, October 1, 2022, https://telex.hu/kult/2022/10/01/mi-kerul-a-telexen-percenkent-2400-for….
- 11“Our Principles,” Direkt36, December 16, 2016, https://www.direkt36.hu/en/alapelveink/.
- 12Interview with András Pethő, co-founder, editor, and executive director of Direkt36, January 13, 2023; Interview with Tamás Bodoky, editor in chief at Átlátszó, February 8, 2023; See recent attacks: DSG, “Orbán’s latest assault on Hungarian Journalists,” Association of European Journalists (AEJ), March 14, 2023, https://aej.org/2023/03/14/media-freedom-crisis-in-the-heart-of-europe-….
- 13Andrea Horváth Kávai and Kárpáti Márton, “Telex will belong to the Telex team: the publisher of Telex becomes employee-owned,” Telex, June 13, 2022, https://telex.hu/english/2022/06/13/telex-will-belong-to-the-telex-team….