Reference is a self-organised network of independent European news publishers, building the future of public interest media together.
Our media organisations rose to fill the gap left where commercial news organisations retreated from producing public interest journalism and public service media failed to retain their audiences. Now, we represent a new vision for journalism in Europe, developing sustainable business models and approaches which ensure we publish and operate in the public interest.
But our new organisations and approaches bring new challenges, and we know we need to work together to address shared organisational and business challenges. To do this, over 25 European independent media organisations have joined forces in our self-organised network Reference, the European Independent Media Circle.
A sustainable independent media sector that has an established presence in Europe.
We believe in well-functioning democracies in Europe, made up of well-informed citizens. The multiple challenges of our societies can only be met with fiercely independent and financially sustainable journalism. We underwrite a collaborative approach to empowerment and believe that together, we can make a lasting difference that can’t be ignored.
Reference collectively solves those problems nobody can solve alone.
Our ultimate goal is to develop the independent media sector into an established presence in Europe. We aim to accelerate each other’s growth into mature and stable organisations, and to raise awareness within civil society and governments about how to support our sector.
We share our experience
We focus on non-editorial issues, supporting each other to address organisational and business challenges. Through constant exchanges and yearly meet-ups, we exchange advice, share our experience and expertise in a knowledge hub, and work on key organisational challenges together in a trusted space.
We share our voices
We aim to demonstrate our collective impact benefitting both the media sector and society. Together, we advocate for the wellbeing of independent, public interest media – financially, legally, and morally.
Who we are
Our inclusive network brings together a diverse range of public-interest media organisations from all over Europe. Our members are active in print media, audiovisual media and digital platforms. We welcome both for- and non-profit media, hyperlocals and media who specialise in investigative journalism. Most of us are pioneers, and among the first movers in our respective countries. We recognise that our media environments hold different opportunities, challenges and threats, across the continent, but we also see overlap and major opportunities to work together.
How reference works
Being self-organised, we believe it’s essential that members have ownership over the network. The network therefore functions as an association in which decisions are made collectively, and each member has the same voting power. All members sign-up to our Transparency Code.
A group of five representatives form a board (called the ‘G5’) that prepares the decision making. Members sit in the G5 for one year and the positions are rotated. As diversity is important in the G5, we mix the group according to geographical location, size of the organisation and gender of the representative.
The current G5 is made up of Zoltán Sipos (RO), Elisabetta Tola (IT), Bram Souffreau (BE), Rozina Breen (GB) and Nikolas Leontopoulos (GR).
Reference is currently still in the start-up phase, and is being incubated by Arena for Journalism until 2025, by which point we aim to have established Reference into an independent legal entity and secure sustainable financing.
The running and development of the network is supported by three coordinators: Maike Olij, Lucas Batt, and Dumi Holdis. You can read more about the coordination team here.
All members of the Reference network pay a membership fee, which is used to cover training by external experts and reimbursement of travel and accommodation costs of those organisations who need it.
Additionally, the network has received financial support from various foundations, including Civitates, Porticus and the Töpfer Stiftung. You can find the financial statements relating to Reference on the website of Arena for Journalism in Europe.
In 2018, several non-profit journalism groups from all over Europe (like the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, Civio and Arena), pondered how helpful it would be to create a forum for exchange of experiences, mutual support and – possibly – representation of our shared interests. Other groups – among them for example Apache – contacted Arena team members with similar suggestions because a European network is an obvious solution.
Arena started to line up for a larger discussion about the question, for example by setting it on the agenda of the Dataharvest 2020 and by preparing an overview over actors. In 2020, the Dutch Adessium Foundation kindly stepped in to support a stocktaking report based upon a survey and in-depth interviews. The findings were clear: Yes, there was a genuine interest in such a network.
At the same time, one of our close partners, Netzwerk Recherche, teamed up with two German universities and mapped the non-profit journalism sector in Europe under a headline that also surfaced in Arena’s stocktaking work: This is a new sector in the field of journalism and media.
In November 2021, finally and thanks to loyal support from the German Alfred Töpfer Foundation, Arena was able to bring together the first 20 organisations from across Europe, from Reporters United in the Southeast of Europe to Dublin Inquirer from the Northwest. During a three-day retreat at the Töpfer Foundation’s Siggen seminar centre, we founded Reference – the European Independent Media Circle.
Interested in becoming a member, or have a general inquiry? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with the coordination team.