Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Helping the Embattled Russian Press

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Helping the Embattled Russian Press

Article excerpt

For global journalists, 1992 is the year of the embattled Russian press. A couple of years earlier, the focus of concern was Central and Eastern Europe.

The press is Eastern Europe is still having a rough time of it, but it is sorting itself out with much attention from the West. The Russian press is in big, trouble, and deserves all the sharing of skills and group therapy we can provide.

Last month a group of 22 U.S. publishers and editors met for three days in St. Petersburg with 25 Russian journalists, who represented a remarkable cross section of the largest, oldest and newest newspapers from throughout the biggest republic in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The St. Petersburg Conference, "Putting Free Press and Free Market Principles Into Practice," was sponsored by the Freedom Forum and administered with the help of the Center for Foreign Journalists. It was not the first such encounter by a long shot; nor did special revelations or initiatives emerge, but it was an important learning experience, and one almost certain to produce some concrete assistance to our hellishly beleaguered brethren.

This participant took away four strong impressions from the St. Pete experience:

* Russian editors are so totally preoccupied with pure survival that talk about such niceties as content, ethics and separation of news from commentary are purely bonus subjects. One Moscow editor said, "Of any 100 start-up papers, 90 could be gone a year from now."

* News executives worry constantly about motivating employees to work harder and longer hours, a problem induced by 40 years of taking government handouts. They admit that "management is not our strong suit."

* They are still struggling with the concept, the potential and reality of true independence in journalism. There is little wonder about this uncertainty, since the government still controls newsprint and subsidies. The heavy thumb from above hangs heavy over the press.

* Despite these factors, the new freedoms have produced incredible enthusiasm, even passion, among many Russian news chiefs. There will be huge bumps and grinds over the next couple of years, but the Russian press will move in the right direction, I am convinced.

Other impressions stick in your mind:

In Russia, as in much of Europe, the editor outranks the business side, publisher and all. No wonder management is not their strong suit! Nowhere in the world do editors excel in arithmetic. Advertising, tool, has been a dirty word there, but our struggling free press practitioners are fast overcoming the prejudice. Already their circulation is suffering from too many price increases. …

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