Students are essentially given full freedom, which means they can cover a wide variety of topics in ways not focused on elsewhere. They are not forced into a specific framework; instead, 4dimensioon is their own publication, where they can cover what they themselves want. In our group, there’s a real sense of support, a shoulder-to-shoulder feeling. If you're not entirely sure about what you’re writing, you can always turn to someone who has been in journalism longer. This way, you might avoid some serious mistakes.
4dimensioon is a vibrant initiative by students from the University of Tartu. This dynamic group of young talents aged 20-27, which includes reporters, designers and editors, has brought fresh perspectives to the media landscape. Beyond articles, they’re shaping the future of media education through workshops, training courses and innovative projects, making a big impact on media literacy in the process.
Enabling participation means providing the freedom to explore topics young people are passionate about. There has to be space for experimentation and non-traditional approaches. This freedom, combined with the opportunity to keep one’s skills sharp and express creativity, appeals to young people.
In delving into the concept of 4dimensioon, insights are shared by founder Margus Hanno Murakas, editor-in-chief Karmen Laur, contributor Kristopher Muraveiski and media studies associate professor Maria Murumaa-Mengel.
Margus Hanno, as the initial leader of 4dimensioon, how did you get the initiative started?
4dimensioon began during my second year at university, around the end of 2015. As the expectation for second-year students to try out internships grew, the transition from an academic setting to major publications felt quite overwhelming, not just for me but for many of my peers also. This collective feeling led me to the realisation that there was a gap between academic learning and professional internships. We weren’t necessarily aiming for mainstream platforms like Postimees, one of the main newspapers in Estonia, or the public broadcaster; instead, we wanted something more approachable.
With this vision, we intended to establish our own publication, primarily for budding writers, editors and students. Our focus was on the contributors rather than a wider readership. The idea truly took shape around our Christmas party. I discussed it with one of our professors, Maria Murumaa-Mengel, who believed it might work. Her affirmation was the push we needed. It wasn’t about seeking formal internships; it was instead about the joy of creation and implementation.
Our initial steps were simple. We started with having discussions among my course mates, and the four of us formed the core team. We then made a Facebook post in our course group, brainstormed a name, and by the end of the day, settled on Neljas Dimensioon (in Estonian) or Fourth Dimension. This name resonated with the newspaper concept and had connotations of the ‘fourth estate’.
What were the next steps in developing the concept?
Our journey saw us focusing on our online publication for the first couple of years. Later, some of our students secured a slot for their show, Vähemolijad, on Vikerraadio, the most listened-to radio station in Estonia. We also initiated a lecture series called Otsepilt, which invited experienced and well-known journalists to share their experiences.
By the end of 2019, we began discussions with Postimees, which led to a partnership. Although the COVID-19 pandemic initially halted our plans, by May 2020 we published our first print newspaper, which continued for three years.
How did the introduction of the newspaper transform 4dimensioon?
When we introduced our newspaper, it brought a major change to how our organisation worked. Throughout our journey, our primary focus was on the editorial team and the students themselves. In an average month, we produced about two to three stories for our website, 4dimensioon.org. To be honest, socialising, especially over beers, took precedence over work. The camaraderie, social life and experience of being in Tartu were central to our organisation. The journalistic output was secondary, with catering to readers being tertiary.
It’s uncertain what would have become of our organisation during the pandemic if not for the print newspaper and funding we received from Postimees. The absence of people in Tartu and a stop in social activities would have had a profound impact. I believe some students even graduated having spent around two and a half years confined to their homes. In essence, our organisation might have faded away if not for the newspaper.
The newspaper increased our journalistic output, and it introduced a wave of professionalisation, clear responsibilities, printing deadlines, accounting and budgeting. Our annual budget, which was perhaps around €80 (primarily for web hosting, which I personally covered), along with some miscellaneous event expenses, surged to around €40 000. This included article honorariums, the ongoing costs of maintaining an office and other overheads. Basically, everything became much larger in scale and more serious.
What has been the feedback and reach?
In Estonia, there’s this peculiar trend: if things are going well, no one comments. You only hear feedback when something isn’t right. I know that journalistic circles and editorial offices keenly followed us. The feedback was mostly positive, though some commented that our paper’s design was non-traditional. Some felt it was too colourful or overly designed. These are individuals who are used to traditional paper layouts, which are generally quite conservative. Every square centimetre is valuable. If we had opted for a design with text filling the space, it wouldn’t have appealed to our target audience. We chose a colourful, spacious design. Some loved it and understood our approach. Postimees was on board with our vision. Overall, the feedback was positive.
As our primary channel was the printed paper, it’s hard to gather precise statistics from it. The most popular articles on the Postimees website had around 30 000 readers. I believe our circulation, which was included in Postimees, was about 23 000. Online, every month when our stories were published, we had around 15 000 readers.
Karmen, the editor-in-chief of 4dimensioon, how does the organisational structure and decision-making process work?
Over the past few years, especially since the introduction of the newspaper, our structure has been consistent. We have a core editorial board led by the editor-in-chief. Typically, there’s one editor-in-chief accompanied by two or three deputy editors. Then, we have a group of writers, primarily first and second-year students, as many students are not based in Tartu by third year. We don’t have strict guidelines on how often one must write, and we’re open to anyone joining without a formal nomination process. Many pieces are co-authored.
Every month, after the release of the previous issue, we convene to brainstorm for the next edition. While writers often bring their own topics, the editorial team maintains a list of backup ideas, encompassing current events, student issues and broader societal topics. We also have fixed columns, primarily from foreign contributors. The writing phase lasts about two weeks, followed by an editorial review, linguistic editing, layout design and then publication.
Kristopher, as a contributor to 4dimensioon, could you share a standout experience you’ve had with the platform?
Last year, my coursemate and I created a video story about how Ukrainian war refugees are adapting in Estonia. It was my first real exposure to journalism and it boosted my confidence to continue in this field. Initially, I had little experience in conducting interviews and knew little about journalism. However, completing the story and getting people to talk to us was a huge motivator for me. We undertook extensive preparatory work and planned our questions and the story’s angle.
This journalism project originated from our own interest, especially as the topic was highly relevant at the time. We wanted to understand the current situation and the main challenges. Our primary goal was to explore what was happening and to identify key shortcomings in the system. As part of a course where we had to create audiovisual content, we decided to combine video creation with the elements of journalism and publish it in 4dimensioon.
Have you encountered any humorous or unexpected situations?
During a pre-parliamentary election debate, we organised four debates with representatives from eight political parties. In one instance, we eagerly awaited a representative from one party while another had already arrived. Pressed for time, we quickly brought in a gentleman who had just arrived, assuming he was the expected representative. We started recording, only to realise mid-introduction that he was not from the party we were expecting, but from a completely different one. It was an embarrassing mix-up, as we hadn’t met these representatives before. Fortunately, everyone eventually arrived on time, and the debate went smoothly. Thankfully, it wasn’t a live broadcast, or the situation would have been even more awkward. It was a humorous yet slightly tragicomic incident of mistaken identity.
Maria, in your role as an associate professor at the university, how have you perceived the activities of 4dimensioon?
Every time a new editor-in-chief takes over, I notice a slight change in direction. While I’ve mainly observed from the sidelines, I’ve seen a shift in our teaching approach during our time at the university. We aimed for our students to not just understand complexities but to actively contribute too. This has led to more practical, problem-solving learning methods. Many students involved in these hands-on projects were from 4dimensioon, even if not directly representing it. Whether they were participating in street campaigns to promote media literacy or partnering with institutions like the National Library, 4dimensioon members consistently stood out, and they have always been on hand to make a meaningful difference.
How does 4dimensioon shape media literacy in today’s digital age?
My concern, especially since the onset of the 2022 war, is that many people lack understanding of how the media operates. I expected a higher base level of media literacy, but it’s disappointingly low.
4dimensioon has focused on educating high school students about media by teaching them both the practical and theoretical aspects of information flow, understanding messages and the workings of the media. This is crucial for psychological resilience.
We need to reach younger audiences, and while I may not resonate with primary school students anymore, individuals like Karmen Laur can. 4dimensioon has made significant steps, but there’s more collaborative work to be done.
Karmen, what have been some notable examples of 4dimensioon’s contribution to media literacy?
We have organised media camps for high school students in Tartu. They’ve participated in workshops, discussed current events like the war and explored platforms like TikTok. We’ve also educated them on journalism basics and given them exposure to real media outlets. Some students have expressed an interest in applying to our institute and joining us after these camps. Over the years, we’ve seen an increase in discussions around social media. Topics like online grooming and platforms like OmeTV and TikTok have been explored. We aim to provide a balanced view and try not simply to warn about internet usage but also to educate about its nuances. The insights from Maria and others enrich our content and help us to address relevant issues.
Margus Hanno, what’s the common misconception media houses have about engaging young readers, and how does it impact on the content they produce?
Media houses often believe that to engage young readers they need to write about young people. They think that if they write about young people, young people in turn will read it. They fail to realise – and perhaps don’t want to understand – that young individuals don’t want to read about their peers, with whom they interact daily, from a middle-aged person’s perspective. They don’t need that. When you write about the youth, it’s essentially a middle-aged person writing for other middle-aged readers, showcasing the ‘young generation’.
Young people are already aware; everyone knows what’s happening around them. They don’t need to see it through someone else’s lens. If you want to write for the youth, you need to focus on topics that are relevant to them. And the most accurate portrayal of what’s relevant to them can only come from young people themselves. Occasionally, someone might get an idea, perhaps after attending a relative’s birthday where a young nephew mentioned TikTok, and now they want to write about it. They might note changing fashion trends or hairstyles – but that’s not the essence.
Karmen, what are the most recent developments regarding 4dimensioon?
There are notable changes in the organisational work this autumn. After the last newspaper 4jaleht was published in May, we’ve moved back to our website. It has also given us a bit more freedom on what and when to publish. Many talented and enthusiastic first-year students have joined us this semester, and I’ve tried to give them as much freedom and joy of writing as possible. Right now we aim to publish every week or at least every second week.
We have also brought back a series called Otsepilt where we invite journalists to come and talk about their everyday work and discuss journalism with young people who are interested in the field. Usually, we welcome a guest every other week.
So, our work is quite different now compared to what it used to be for the last 3 years. Nevertheless, the core mission remains the same: to give young people a safe space to experiment before they take on internships in big media outlets.
Organisations like 4dimensioon offer freedom of participation. They’re filled with passionate individuals who say, ‘Let’s do it!’ instead of doubting themselves. They empower each other, take responsibility and redefine their roles in the field. As a teacher, I appreciate when there’s a hint of rebellion and a challenging of the status quo.
Maria Murumaa-MengelAssociate Professor of Media Studies, University of Tartu
4Dimensioon members, beyond media exploration, conducted physical interventions like the Mirrors project during the 2020 Media Week in Tartu. Mirrors displayed information on social media data management, showcasing 4Dimensioon’s creative approach to promoting media and information literacy (MIL).
About the project
EU Youth Programme Priority:
Youth Participation / Skills Development and Volunteering
Media, Information & Critical Thinking
On the independent news site http://4dimensioon.org/, young journalists cover a range of topics often missed or underrepresented in traditional media. This brings attention to stories and issues that the general public might otherwise overlook.