Staunton, September 4 – Journalists specializing on ethnic issues must compensate for declines since 1991 in the number and quality of interactions among people of different nationalities in post-Soviet Russia, and because there are few such journalists in Moscow, that places an enormous responsibility on journalists in the non-Russian republics.
That is the message Margarita Lyange, the head of the Russian Federation’s Guild of Inter-Ethnic Journalism and advisor to the editor of Radio Russia, delivered in the course of an extensive interview published in the new issue of “Finnougria,” a magazine directed at the Finno-Ugric nations in Russia (www.finnougoria.ru/periodika/20810/).
And this is the task that such journalists, the vast majority of whom are women because of the lower pay and lower status of such positions now, must undertake in order to promote sympathy and empathy among these groups rather than contribute to a further decline in the ties among them and to the exacerbation of inter-ethnic tensions and even violence.
Often these journalists are forced to work not in the traditional print or electronic media but on the Internet, a place that can be extraordinarily useful when the sites involved produce regular news feeds rather than simply commentaries and reactions. Indeed, Lyange said, “the presence of regular news is already an indicator of quality” of journalism.
The Guild, which was created in 2003, not only seeks to unite those working in ethnic journalism across the Russian Federation, its president said, but it tries to increase the professionalism of such journalists, helping them to get grants and organizing seminars on how to cover ethnic issues.
As such, Lyange continued, her organization is combating what she described as the trend toward a demand only for “the universal journalist,” capable of covering anything. An ethnic journalist must simultaneously be a universal journalist and “also a fundraiser,” thus working “twice as much” as his colleagues.
Asked what Finno-Ugric ethnic journalists should do to overcome the difficulties many find in locating news about their groups, Lyange said that the current situation reflects “the problem of growth because national movements in recent years, unfortunately, have been inclined to focus only inward.”
“In our country,” she said, one of the problems is the inability to interact, to cooperate, to establish creative coalitions, to join unions and to exchange something with each other,” all skills which people had to a greater decree in Soviet times but lost after 1991 when people were forced to focus on survival rather than have “the luxury” of worrying about broader linkages.
Before the end of the Soviet system, people of various ethnic groups were more often thrown together in universities, the military and the workplace, and that contributed to “the habit of friendship, tolerance and normal interaction. But now, there remain very few of these places where various ethnic groups can intersect.”
That means ethnic journalists must fill in the gap, covering both individual groups and their interactions in ways that promote understanding rather than heighten isolation and tensions. Doing so requires sensitivity and skill, but promoting such common understanding and hence the basis for common identities above and beyond ethnic ones is “the task of ethnic journalism.”