Russian and Vermont journalists compare notes

MIDDLEBURY ­­–– Questions asked in Russian peppered the air in the conference room in the Addison Independent offices this Tuesday as a delegation of five Russian journalists from the Open World program asked about journalistic practices in the U.S., finances and government accountability.
Open World is run through the U.S. Department of State and enables emerging leaders from Russia to come to the United States in hopes of creating communities and professional partnerships between the two nations. In Vermont, Open World operates through the Vermont Council on Foreign Affairs.
The journalism delegates are in the midst of a brief tour of Vermont media outlets. They have specific goals for the trip, explained Ashley Sandy, the Vermont Council’s director of international visitors.
“In this group they came with 60 (delegates) and split up into regions all over the country to focus on different topics,” she said. “Their focus is accountable governance, but with a journalism focus.”
The five delegates –– Yelena Kirillova, Yevgeniya Maltseva, Elena Sakharova, Lyudmila Shabuyeva and Elita Yusupova –– sat down with Independent owner and publisher Angelo Lynn for a discussion about this paper and journalism in Russia and the U.S. All of the delegates spoke through a translator.
Similarities and differences between newspapers in the two countries comprised a significant portion of the discussion.
A glaring discrepancy between their experience as reporters and editors in Russia and that of American journalists is the censorship that many Russian papers face, especially if the newspaper is subsidized by the government.
Maltseva explained how a newspaper in her town is censored.
“What happens in our city is that the editor-in-chief comes with all the materials from the newspaper to the mayor,” she said. “The mayor goes through the whole thing and he says, this can be published, this can’t be published. So basically it’s like almost the voice of the mayor.”
Shabuyeva discussed a similar situation.
“In Yaroslavl, the situation is pretty much the same except for it won’t be the mayor who will be reading through the materials and vetoing out some things, it would be the staff that would do that,” she said. “With the new mayor it looks like things have not changed, really, because I read through the city newspaper and everything is still the same; the events are covered in the same way so that the government affairs are shown in a positive light only. Just so that you could see kind of the magnitude, this main city newspaper in Yaroslavl was receiving $30,000 a month from the municipality.”
She explained that reporters do what they can to overcome censorship and that she uses social media to do so.
“There is really not much unionizing with journalists and editors so there is no strong united voice,” she said. “But individually we do things that we consider necessary. For example, what I do is I post a lot of things that I can’t say on the radio on the Facebook. When this new mayor was going in, during his election campaign he was saying, I will make the government very transparent, so I came up to his first deputy when he became mayor and I asked for the mayor’s cell phone number and he didn’t give me the telephone number. So I just told about that on the Facebook. But I can’t do it every single time because obviously it would be too much droning.”
The delegates said that commercial newspapers that do not receive subsidies tend to avoid censorship.
“It doesn’t mean that everything with the print media is so bad or with any type of media is so bad, because if you look at the things that are covered in the commercial newspapers they can be covered in a completely different light,” Shabuyeva said.
Yusupova added that papers that are subsidized on a smaller scale tend to be less biased.
“To make the picture more complete, there is a business newspaper that started in Yaroslavl about a year ago and it is subsidized by the government, but there is not so much brownnosing as in other newspapers,” she said. “It’s nice to see that.”
The visiting journalists also had numerous questions about the Independent, ranging from format to advertising to special sections.
The delegates shared stories from their experiences working at Russian newspapers, comparing them with those they heard about the Independent.
Shabuyeva described the news meetings at a paper where she used to work.
“The setup was like that every morning every reporter had to come in to the morning meeting with two or three pieces of news they found somewhere,” she said. “It was not the news that you could have read somewhere, it was actually like really truly found news. Whether you asked a neighbor about something that happened, whether you witnessed something, so that was pretty crazy because it would be hard to come up with two or three pieces of news on a daily basis. You had to be very careful about not talking about that news with a fellow reporter because they would go and say, oh look at what I found.”
Maltseva was interested in the paper’s layout, explaining that the Independent did not look much like Russian papers.
“The format is very different,” she said. “If you look at a Russian newspaper we don’t have very big and broad newspapers like this, we have maybe two national newspapers like this.”
Other delegates spoke of similarities between the Independent and their publications.
Many of them work at publications with a staff of 20 to 30 people, which is close to the Independent staff of 21.
When discussing the Independent’s website, Yusupova noticed a similarity with her magazine’s site in how many stories are published for free and how many are teases.
“In our magazine we have a very similar approach where about only 10 percent of materials are put online for free,” she said.
As the discussion came to a close, the visit seemed productive. The group complimented the Independent and thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the office. They were sent off with copies of the paper, Vermont Ski & Ride Magazine, (which is produced by Addison Press), and some special sections of the newspaper, and they shared a few tokens from home with their hosts.
Their tour of Vermont also includes visits to VPR, the Times Argus in Montpelier and the Stowe Reporter.

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