Saturday, August 28, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Print Media Remain More Influential than Internet in Russia, Moscow Media Expert Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 28 – Print media remain more influential than the Internet because of differences between the two concerning the locus of editorial control, the ease or difficulty of publishing, and popular views about the standing of reports on paper as compared to those on video screens, according to a leading Russia media expert.
In a comment this week online, Andrey Miroshnichenko, who has written widely in and on the Russian media print and electronic, concedes that “ever more people get their information online.” But he insists that “not one site has achieved the level of significance that the old media still have” (
Indeed, he continues, as far as society and individuals in it are concerned, the influence of the print media remains “concentrated in the old mass media,” something which reflects deep-seated views that are unlikely to change quickly, however much attention the Internet attracts over time.
Just like the editors of major print outlets, Miroshnichenko says, ordinary people react more skeptically to online materials than they do to those on paper. “Paper is holy” in their minds; “the Internet will put up with anything,” an attitude that reflects the common understanding that it is much easier to put something online than to publish in the press.
That distinction, he suggests, is reflected as well by the expression “reports in the Internet” that is increasingly used not only among journalists but among ordinary Russians, a descriptive phrase that has the obvious connotation that reports from this source are not to be taken as seriously as those from others.
In part, this reflects “the inertia of habit.” For “several centuries, people have been told and have largely accepted “the myth about the special role of newspapers, about the importance of the printed word.” And the Internet has not had the time to gain that kind of support from the mass consumer of news.
But that is far from the only reason that print media retain greater influence than the Internet yet has. “There are a number of technical characteristics which make an abstract publication in the press more significant than an abstract publication on the Internet or even in Internet media.”
The first of these is “purely physical.” A text in a newspaper can only be so long, and that in turn means that it is typically more tightly written, on the one hand, and more carefully selected, on the other. Indeed, readers “understand that it is much simpler to get a text posted on the Internet than printed in a newspaper or journal.”
Related to this is “another important technical characteristic.” Postings on the Internet can be “removed just as easily as [they] can be put up.” Newspaper articles, in contrast, take on a fixed and permanent form, one that, as Russians say, “cannot be removed with an ax.” And that sends the message: “responsibility for the printed word is higher than for the Internet.”
And that leads to the conclusion, Miroshnichenko argues, that “the press despite all its shortcomings … retains its influence: poorly measured [perhaps], but massive” relative to the Internet.
Because selectivity is the basis of significance, the media expert says, “the newspaper text aspires to significance already by the fact of its publication” because editors have chosen it, while “an Internet text by the fact of its publication only offers itself” up to the judgment of the individual reader who himself must act as editor.
All this may change, Miroshnichenko says, if people become convinced that behind an Internet page is an editor making choices based on some set of standards. And one way that will happen more quickly he suggests is if Internet portals offer their visitors texts that have appeared earlier in some printed form. Ever more Internet operators in Russia clearly understand this.

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