Responding to a flood of anti-Ukraine propaganda in the Russian mass media, the website TJournal has temporarily hidden a service that aggregates news stories trending on the RuNet. Until recently, TJournal’s splashpage offered a list of news articles trending on Russian social media. (The statistical program responsible for drawing up this list counted “shares” and “likes” on Twitter, Facebook, and Vkontakte.) The service is still accessible using TJournal’s mobile applications and a direct hyperlink, but it no longer exists on the website's main page.
Nikita Likhachev, TJournal’s founder and chief editor, spoke to RuNet Echo today to explain the temporary disappearance of the trending-news feature.
Из-за повышенного внимания российских СМИ к теме украинского конфликта новостная повестка стала слишком политизирована, на время вытеснив все остальные темы дня из общей картины. Наблюдая за медиатором и за реакцией читателей, мы поняли, что в таких условиях он не отвечает нашим высоким требованиям к формированию разносторонней картины дня, и решили временно снять его. Мы займёмся им чуть позже: превратим в персонализируемый сервис, который станет частью нового TJournal.
Because of the Russian mass media’s increased attention on the Ukrainian conflict, the news agenda has become over-impacted politically, for the moment displacing all other topics of public interest. Observing the [news] mediator and the reactions of our readers, we’ve understood that the service isn’t meeting our high standard to form a diverse picture of the day, so we decided to remove it temporarily. We’ll take this up again a bit later, transforming it into a personalized service that will become part of the new TJournal.
Launched three years ago this month as a tool for “automated analysis” of Russian-language tweets, TJournal has developed to become one of the most cited media outlets on the Russian Internet. (In May 2014, TJournal ranked 26th overall, above widely read newspapers like Komsomolskaia Pravda.) In addition to rating Russia’s most popular tweets, TJournal also produces a growing amount of original content, reporting on and analyzing technology and Internet news.
The politicization of TJournal’s trending-news feature isn’t the first time the site has encountered Kremlin-related complications.
In April 2013, TJournal found itself at the center of a media attack on Vkontakte’s former CEO, Pavel Durov, who helped fund Likhachev’s project during its first year with a $25-thousand grant. Publishing email records allegedly between former Vkontakte Press Secretary Vlad Tsyplukhin and Kremlin officials, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that Tsyplukhin personally pitched TJournal to the government.
Likhachev told Novaya Gazeta that TJournal’s contact with Tsyplukhin was limited to the application process for the grant the website received from Durov’s foundation in 2011. Likhachev did, however, get a phone call from someone in the Kremlin in the spring of 2011, before TJournal even launched, but the caller was only trying to learn basic details about the website. “They were just interested in the project. We didn’t establish any [regular] points of contact. We didn’t even meet — we only talked on the phone,” Likhachev explained.
Last week, TJournal celebrated its third anniversary, announcing that it will undergo a major redesign later this year. All indications, including TJournal’s newest version of its Android application, suggest that the website will lean more toward “personalized” features, where readers determine what they see on the site, selecting the stories that best suit their interests and, perhaps, their political persuasions. Given the country’s current media environment, where it’s possible to railroad an entire television station because of one unpatriotic survey question, TJournal may have stumbled onto a perfect solution to the problems of news reporting in Russia.