Staunton, February 14 – Many observers were outraged by a Russian official’s suggestion that journalism students should be taught to be prepared to write what their future bosses want them to, a survey of younger Russian journalists finds that many of them are struggling with this as they balance journalist ethics and a desire to keep their jobs.
Last Saturday, Deputy Communications Minister Aleksey Volin told journalism students at Moscow State University that their professors should “be honest” and tell their students that they must learn to write what their bosses want, a view he repeated in “Izvestiya” the next day (www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uRvPhz6kzPc and izvestia.ru/news/544689).
The Kasparov.ru portal decided to find out how young journalists now view such declarations by asking seven of them: Should a journalist work for his bosses or strive for independence? Are you willing to investigate stories that may have risks for you? Do you think that journalists in Russia and in the West “live according to different laws?” And “where in your view is Russian journalism heading?”
Yesterday, the portal’s Maria Muromskaya and Marina Kurganskaya reported their findings. The answers they received provide some basis for hope but far more reasons to be concerned that young Russian journalists are prepared to follow the dictates of their bosses, something that can be fatal for journalism in the best sense.
Elizabet, 22 and working at “Moskovsky komsomolets,” said that “now it is fashionable to be an independent journalist or to strive for that status,” but those who only want employment and nothing more can be pushed to write what the bosses want, adding that she wasn’t prepared to put her life at risk for a story. And she suggested that she “does not want to think about where [Russian] journalism is heading.”
Olga, 24 and an employee of a Moscow television channel, said that it is so difficult to get a position that “it isn’t appropriate to talk about working for ‘the bosses’ or for independence.” One would like to work for independence, but that isn’t always possible. She said journalism standards were high where she works but unfortunately not so high elsewhere.
Aleksandr, 26 and a journalist at “Farmvestnik,” said that a journalist should work for his editors but try to avoid allowing owners to direct his or her output. He said he sensed that journalists in the West enjoyed more protections but that in Russia there was “a sense of a certain degradation of the profession.”
Tsvetelina, 22 and employed by “Moskovskiye novosti,” said that a journalist “must support the corporate policy of the media where he works” but that he must choose where he works so that he is close to the views of the editors and owners. In her view, Russian and Western journalism are “practically two different worlds.” In the West, journalists have “much higher corporate standards” than do their Russian counterparts.
Andrey, 29 and a reporter at FirstNews, said that certain Russian media outlets require their journalists to follow a line but others don’t, and therefore “here everything depends on the personal choice” of a journalist to work in the one type or the other. In the West, too, he said, some journalists have to do what their bosses want too.
Aleksandr, 22 and at “Moskovskiye novosti,” said that the Internet has given journalists a choice: they can work for a publication or be completely independent online “without the mediation of the owner.” But even owners “already cannot count on unqualified loyalty” from their employees.
And Nikita, 22 and at “Novaya gazeta,” said that journalists do have a choice: if the bosses ask for something that violates a journalist’s convictions, the journalist “does not need to work at that publication.” And he expressed the hope that despite what is happening in Russia just now, journalism there is “moving toward a more civilized future.”