The Echo publishing project emerged as a reaction to the dramatic technological and social changes we've been going through. While the new technology powering the digital revolution is a global phenomenon, the accompanying societal change has a number of local specifics in the Czech Republic.
The digital revolution has had its most visible impact in the media. Unprecedented diversification is the king – the number of TV channels is rising constantly, digital media delivered over a mixture of internet platforms is proliferating, print media, especially daily newspapers are experiencing decline. This brings new opportunities as well as disruptive changes in the ownership structure. Establishing a new media outlet has never been easier or cheaper. In the pre-digital age a costly and complex infrastructure was a prerequisite for launching a newspaper, including especially printing plants and distribution networks. With newspapers often owning its own printing plants and truck fleets, it wasn't easy to break through into this field. With the technical limitations of the frequency spectrum, prospective new players found it extremely difficult to obtain a broadcasting license. Digitalization opened up the market for numerous small publishers, broadcasters, and even individual authors and bloggers, some of whom may rival the established media outlets in their impact on the public opinion. Major media houses found themselves losing their information monopoly and battling a precipitous decline in circulation (the total circulation of Czech dailies has dropped from 2 millions to 800,000 during the last ten years) or viewers of their TV channels. A drop in advertising income became a logical consequence. This not only enfeebled the economic power of the media houses, but in some cases endangered their economic independence.
Media entrepreneurs in developed countries have tended not to expand their operations into other fields of business; they certainly haven't been in the habit of owning political parties (the tradition of political parties owning newspapers, which was the case in the prewar Czechoslovakia, was something different entirely – it was clear who owns what, and a single party certainly didn't own a sizable chunk of the market).
The role of the media in a democratic state is indispensable. They hold politicians and state institutions accountable, they provide an arena for free speech, and provide a feedback function for the society. An oligarchization of media ownership took hold in the Czech Republic in recent years. It influences to various degrees the content of individual outlets. The foreign owners, who had acquired most of Czech media properties in the 1990s, saw their profit margins squeezed and decided to leave the Czech market. The media houses are being acquired by members of Czech business and political structures who have been willing to pay economically irrational prices for them. The goal of their steps is obvious: to be able to influence the public opinion. The media are the tools to protect their economic and political interests. Echo has no murky background of this kind. It aims to counterbalance the oligarchized Czech media. Our readers will not have to wonder whose interests is our content supposed to serve. Echo wants to serve solely its readers.
We launched the news and opinion daily Echo24.cz on March 14, 2014. The staff consist mainly of opinion writers, reporters, the editor and management team of Lidové noviny, a newspaper with a tradition spanning 100 years, and until the acquisition by Andrej Babiš, the most serious-minded Czech daily.
Echo 24.cz attracted 600 000 monthly users by June 2015 (GA) a started to influence the public debate from the position of the strongest independent news web outlet in the country. On July 4, 2014 we launched Echo Weekly, first as a digital-only publication, and then, starting in November 2014 we responded to demand by adding a print edition. Echo Weekly, a political and intellectual revue, has a paid circulation of 11,000.
Journalism can never be silent