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Russia: Bloggers Discuss the Fall of Russian Newspapers

A spate of firings at the nearly century-old Russian daily Izvestia as well as the online news site Gzt.ru has seen journalists appealing to the public for their jobs, as the blogosphere questions the merits of the “old guard” journalists.

On June 6, 2011, the new publisher of Russian newspaper Izvetsia, Aram Gabrelyanov, announced that nearly two thirds of the paper’s staff may be let go to revamp the decades old journal and make it a more profitable business model.

“Effective papers”

Old newspapers. Image by Flickr user ShironekoEuro (CC BY 2.0).

Old newspapers. Image by Flickr user ShironekoEuro (CC BY 2.0).

In an interview with Slon.ru [ru], Gabrelyanov, an owner of the Russian tabloid Zhizn and a popular portal LifeNews.ru, said that he plans to make Izvestia “much cooler than Kommersant and Vedomosti” [two main Russian business dailies], and that he would start by letting go off journalists who don’t do anything:

Это нормально, когда из 130 журналистов только 30 пишут, а остальные 100 – хрен знает, что делают? Когда есть менеджеры, которые непонятно чем занимаются? Я так не работаю. Мне нужны эффективные газеты, эффективные менеджеры.

Is it normal when out of 130 journalists only 30 write, and the left over 100 – who the hell knows what they do? When there are managers, and no one knows what they do? I don't work this way. I demand effective papers, effective managers.

Initially nervous, Izvestia staff published an open letter in Novaya Gazeta [ru] on June 6, appealing to loyal readers, concerned citizens, and fellow journalists.

In the letter, the journalists, headed by deputy editor, Sergey Mostovschikov, claimed that:

Работодатель держит коллектив в полном неведении относительно выплаты зарплат за отработанный период, компенсаций за неиспользованный отпуск, порядка и условий увольнения, способов продолжения трудовой деятельности. […] Понимая незаконность действий, предпринятых собственником в отношении сотрудников газеты, отдавая себе отчет в том, что корректное, соответствующее действующему законодательству, увольнение персонала обойдется “Национальной Медиа Группе” в сумму более двух миллионов долларов, редакция, тем не менее, не намерена совершать действия, провоцирующие возникновение громкого трудового спора.

The bosses keep the staff in the dark concerning the payment of the wages for the period they have worked, compensation for the leave they have not taken, the conditions and reasons for their firing, and the manner of their working future. […] In light of the illegal nature of these actions undertaken by the owner with regard to the employees of the newspaper, and corresponding to present laws, the dismissal of an employee will cost the “National Media Group” more than 2 million dollars, and what's more, the editors, who did not intend to preform such, have provoked a loud labor dispute.

Mostovschikov, who helped pen the open letter, told OpenSpace.ru [ru] that journalists at least merited enough respect to be warned about “what is to happen in their lives.”

He noted, however, that he expected that Izvetsia’s owners would “either smash everything to pieces (simply because it is better to not waste two million dollars), or behave themselves in a civilized way and secretly flick them off and despise these stupid journalist-creatures.”

Я думаю, что у них большой проект и большие виды на здание и на выборы. Во всяком случае [заместитель главного редактора Елена] Ямпольская в частных беседах говорила, что им надо пропутинское, имперское и православное. Но это на самом деле совершенно не интересно, то есть совсем. Интересно, что достало отношение к себе как к скоту, извини за банальность.

I think that they have a bigger project [in mind], and are looking to the new building and the elections. In any case, in private discussions, [the deputy editor Elena] Yamolskaya that they need to be more pro-Putin, imperial, and Orthodox. But in fact it is completely not interesting, I mean at all. It is interesting that they treated themselves like cattle, sorry for the vulgarity.

Agreement reached

On June 8, the National Media Group and the staff of Izvestia came to an agreement [ru] that the company would pay the journalists “for the period that they had worked, compensate them for vacation days not-taken, and pay two months severance.”

The plea and subsequent firing of the Izvestia journalists, coupled with the firing of 30 journalists from the online version of Gazeta (gzt.ru [ru]), as well as the discontinuation of the BBC Russian Service, has caused a pool of conflicting ripples in the Russian blogosphere.

Ekho Moskvy reporter, Kseniya Larina posted the Novaya Gazeta plea on her Facebook page [ru] with the comment:

вот совершенно их не жалко. прогибались под каждую шестерку, стелились под решения ЦК, любую назначенную сверху серятину принимали, терпели цензуру, поливали “либеральную прессу”,а теперь – “коллеги. помогите”. Удавитесь со своим арамом.

Well, I am totally not sorry for them. they constantly caved in, cowered under the decisions of the secret police, took any humdrum order from above, put up with the censors, attacked the “liberal press,” and now – “colleagues. help up.” You can suffocate with your Aram [Gabrelyanov].

Her post received dozens of comments and back and forth debate, from friends and fellow former Izvestia journalists. Commenter Leonid Sokolov disagreed with Larina:

И опять же, главное – сдали газету. А Известия – это газетный Гагарин. Простите, просрали. Поле битвы как всегда осталось мародерам. А все такие умные-благородные могут теперь утереться. Это ведь – скажу еще раз – не газету Известия хоронят, а журналистику. Журналистику эпохи 90-х годов.

And again, the main thing is that a paper has folded. And Izvestia – is a newspaper Gagarin. Forgive them that they have lost it. There are always marauders in the battlefield. And even so, that such smart, good people can bite the dust. It's the fact that – I will say again – it's not Izvestia that is being laid to rest, but journalism. The journalism of the 1990's.

The Moscow News writer Tim Wall called Larina’s comments “unworthy”:

It is not easy at all for ordinary journalists to stand out against the prevailing winds of censorship (self-imposed or otherwise) when most of the country’s media follows instructions from either high officials or oligarchs. The basic rights of journalists and other workers in the media – to a decent job and pay, with the freedom to report objectively without interference from the rich and powerful – are always worth defending, whichever side of the political barricades you’re standing on.

On June 7, Izvestia rolled out a new, trimmer A2 format. Natalia Oss [ru] posted a picture of the new front page next to the front page of the Wall Street Journal under the headline “90% of journalists are copy-pasters,” and attributed the quote to Aram Gabrelyanov.

Lenta.ru turned Oss’s post into an article [ru], which seemed to highlight the whole conundrum of the situation. As more and more journalists turn to blogging in order to write what they really think, and more and more readers look to websites and trusted LiveJournal pages in order to know what is really happening, will blogs fill the space of hollow, party line articles and tabloid nonsense?

One commenter questioned the general merit of a paper like Izvestia:

а что вы хотите? В Известиях больще 100 журналистов. Зачем кормить столько дармоедов?

And what did you expect? There are over 100 journalists working at Izvestia. Why should that many hangers on continue to be fed?

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