Thursday, September 27, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Internet Journalism in Russia Very Different Than That Practiced in the West

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 27 – The differences between Internet journalism and the traditional kind are so large and so often remarked upon as to have obscured the equally or perhaps even more important distinctions between Internet journalism as practiced in the Russian Federation and that conducted in Western countries.
In an article published earlier this year but posted online only yesterday, Irkutsk media analyst Dmitriy Tayevskiy points to three areas – how it is used, to whom it is directed, and how those engaged in it are trained -- in which Russian and international Internet journalism diverge (
And he intriguingly concludes that while Russian Internet journalism nearly caught up with its Western counterpart during the first part of the decade, largely on the basis of the enthusiasm of its practitioners, the Russian sector is falling behind because country does not provide sufficient training for those working in this field.
The first big difference between Russian and Western Internet journalism, Tayevskiy says, concerns the ways in which managers in traditional media outlets such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television view the Internet.
In the West, he suggests, managers of traditional media outlets “with rare exceptions” view the Internet as simply another technological vehicle which reporters can use to file their stories and which publishers can use to distribute the content of their normal outlets to a broader audience.
In Russia, on the other hand, Russian Internet journalists view the Internet more politically. At present, he writes, many Moscow papers “put on their sites not only information which has been published in the printed version but also materials which were left out because of political correctness, censorship or simply a lack of space.”
The second big difference Tayevskiy claims to see is between the nature of the two audiences for Internet journalism. In the West, where far higher percentages of the population have access to the Internet than do in Russia, Internet journalism, albeit often in segmented ways, is directed at the entire population much like television. .
In Russia, on the other hand, only about 15 percent of the population goes online, far fewer than watch television, and those who do are concentrated in the middle range of the income pyramid. The very poorest groups do not go online, and the wealthiest do not rely on the Internet for news, Tayevskiy says.
As a result, Internet journalism in Russia is addressed to the emerging middle class rather than to the top or the bottom of the economic pyramid, a pattern that helps to explain both its content and the nature of its influence – very strong on some issues but quite weak on many others.
And the third big difference between Internet journalism in Russia and its counterparts in the West involves the people who are engaged in it. In the West, there are special courses in journalism schools on the Internet and even entire university programs in Internet journalism. As a result, those who enter the field now tend to be well trained.
The situation in Russia, in contrast, is entirely different. There are only a microscopic number of courses on Internet journalism and no university-level programs to ensure an adequate supply of journalists trained to take advantage of this new technology.
When the Internet came to Russia in the first place, enthusiastic amateurs were sufficient to power the rise of Internet journalism there, especially given the possibilities for anonymous and inexpensive distribution of materials under the radar screen of officials.
And this enthusiasm was so great, Tayevskiy says, that by 2000-2005, Internet journalists in Russia were doing just as well or in some cases even better than their Western counterparts. But now, he suggests, the initial enthusiasm for this journalistic format is waning, and Russia is falling behind their better-trained Western counterparts.
Many Russian and Western specialists would disagree with Tayevskiy on each of these points, but it is intriguing that a Russian Internet journalist is offering them at all --and offering it when many both there and elsewhere are placing almost unlimited confidence in the transformative qualities of this no longer quite so new medium.

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