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“A direct connection with our audience”: Why publishers are doubling down on Telegram

What do the BBC, Corriere della Sera, El Diario, NYT, Guardian and FT have in common? They all publish on Telegram. But for media in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Telegram is more than just another channel, it’s a vital lifeline to their audience. Anton Protsiuk, Senior Editor at The Fix Media in Ukraine, explains more…

From where I’m sat, Telegram seems to be pretty useless when taking the needs of publishers into account. For starters, as a messenger app it’s got little functionality, it has almost no monetisation tools and as far as analytics are concerned, well good luck with that.

Yet, in many parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Telegram is the go-to application for news consumption. A directory of publishers with accounts on Telegram drawn up by Aaron Coultate, The Economist’s head of newsletters, lists no less than 123 publisher accounts in Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, all the way to Mozambique.

Perhaps best to explain this phenomenon is Anton Protsiuk, senior editor at The Fix Media. Based in war-torn Ukraine, he has experienced first hand the value of Telegram and has taken the opportunity to study how other publishers use the messenger app.

In an interview with Mx3, Anton lists three main reasons why many media organisations worldwide are doubling down on Telegram:

  • It offers a powerful combination of personal communication tools and broadcast capabilities. Unlike platforms like Facebook or Twitter, where content visibility is influenced by algorithms, Telegram provides direct access to an audience through both private chats and public channels. This can be beneficial for news media organisations to establish a direct and unfiltered connection with their audience.
  • Telegram has positioned itself as a more secure alternative to many popular messengers, including WhatsApp. While it may not be the most secure messenger app available, it still offers a relatively high level of security compared to many other messaging platforms.
  • Telegram is technically reliable and difficult for authorities to block. Even during internet disruptions, Telegram remains more reliable than many websites. Its technology also makes it challenging for authorities to censor. For example, Russian authorities attempted to block Telegram but ultimately failed.

In his analyses of how other publications use Telegram, explains Anton, most continue to harvest the key strengths of the app, which is reaching audiences quickly and directly during critical situations, such as at times of crisis or protests – or as in Anton’s case, the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Yet, he is acutely aware of the app’s shortcomings. Telegram is less developed as a media and communications platform compared to alternatives. It lacks advanced features for monetisation and analytics.

Most publications see it only to serve as an additional way to engage a specific audience or cover specific topics, rather than being the primary platform for their content. Those news outlets that invested in launching Telegram channels often use it to only focus on specific topics or regions.

As for The Fix Media itself, they use Telegram in two main ways:

  • They have created a public channel to highlight their coverage and draw attention to their own journalistic efforts and content. This channel has a diverse audience, and it is particularly popular in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • They have created a few private chat channels. This works well for one-off events.  It allows them to engage with participants in real-time and maintain a direct connection with the audience before, during and after the event.

You can watch our entire interview with Anton below:

5 Key Take-Aways:

  • Despite limitations, Telegram is a popular platform for news consumption in regions like Eastern Europe and the Middle East
  • Telegram combines personal communication and broadcast capabilities effectively, offering a direct connection with audiences.
  • Telegram’s key strength lies in its ability to reach audiences quickly and directly, making it valuable during crises and protests, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Most publishers recognise Telegram’s limitations but leverage its strengths for specific purposes. 
  • Telegram is technically reliable and difficult to block during internet disruptions.