Digital Journalism, Russian Style

By: Steve Outing

Russian journalists are embracing the Internet and incorporating it as a reporting tool, and despite relatively low Internet penetration throughout the Russian population, journalists seem to be signing on in great numbers. Indeed, the Internet is beginning to change the face of Russian journalism, says Dmitry Ruschin, Ph.D., head of the International Department of the Mass Media Center at St. Petersburg University, which plays a key role in getting Russian journalists prepared to work in the digital age. And while Russian newspapers are well behind their U.S. counterparts in publishing on the Internet, activity is clearly on the upswing, he says.

The Mass Media Center, which is part of the School of Journalism at the university, trains journalists to use the Internet. As such, Ruschin is positioned to watch as worldwide digital communications alters the media landscape in Russia. I interviewed Ruschin recently via e-mail in order to learn about the interactive media situation in his country.

Q: Can you give me a sense of how widespread is use of the Internet by Russian journalists and news organizations?

A: "I think that the use of the Internet by Russian journalists is very widespread (especially in Moscow, St.Petersburg and large regional centers of the Russian Federation). The Internet has arrived in full force, and Russian journalists are ready for it. And they are acutely aware not only of its effects in the publishing and broadcasting processes, but also of its impact on the craft of journalism itself.

"Today's journalist, whether in St. Petersburg or in New York, must sort through and make sense of an enormous amount of information. Little gadgets like e-mail and online access have become critical components of our daily lives, making available and even manageable those otherwise monstrous things like databases, CD-ROM libraries, newsgroups, mailing and distribution lists, magazines and journals, online news and information services, and the most unwieldy and fickle of all: stock markets and online quotes.

"I calculate that there are approximately 50,000 users of electronic mail in Russian media, of which 20,000-25,000 have access to the full range of online Internet services."

Q: How prevalent is Internet publishing activity by Russian media organizations?

A: "Of course, the major cities that are well wired have more access to the Internet. But not only are Moscow and St. Petersburg newspapers and magazines sailing across international borders, but according to The Open Media Research Institute (OMRI), a variety of regional media are now seeking to increase their readership on the Internet. Now the Novgorod Weekly Icon can be read in the high councils of London, The St. Petersburg Times entice the savvy wallets of Wall Street, the mayor of Nizhny-Sanarka opines to those whose daily news consumption once began with The New York Times. And readers in Moscow can discover what is happening outside the city and even outside the country, quickly and easily.

"However, the system is not perfect yet. One major problem for Internet readers is that the local press often assumes an understanding of the story's context, which may not exist outside the local region. We are still learning. But the Internet still allows for the quickest access to any article published in the national and regional presses of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States, the Trans-Caucasus region and Central Asia. Articles published internationally are available as well."

Q: How many Russian newspapers have some sort of online presence or Web site?

A: "A growing number of Russian periodicals are available online, including Izvestiya and Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Regional press is also active. Some examples: The official St. Petersburgskiye Vedomosti appears online about two days after publication and contains local and national news and commentary. English-language newspaper The St.Petersburg Times has its own Web site. The independent but pro-reform Bryanskoe Vremya (The Briansk Times) is available weekly. In the Far East, Sovetskii Sakhalin appears a week or so after publication in hard copy. There is a growing and wide variety of other newspapers available as well.

"Russia On-Line provides a good set of links to various Internet versions of publications. The National News Service home page contains a database of complete articles from many Russian publications, similar to the Nexis database of English language publications.

"But I think that the Internet is now not a truly mass medium in the country because of an average personal income of $150 US per month across Russia."

Q: How would you compare Russian newspapers online with American ones?

A: "I think that many of Russian newspapers online use or want to use the same ways (including advertising, discussion forums, etc.)."

Q: What news organizations are on the leading edge of Internet publishing? Which do you most admire?

A: "The information agencies (like ITAR-TASS) as well as leading Russian newspapers (like Izvestiya) are leaders in Internet publishing. In Russia, environmentalists also prefer to use the Internet facilities. ... Also I can mention the English-language Vladivostok News; Russian computer weekly Computerweek-Moscow; online version of the Russian daily newspaper in Novosibirsk Molodost' Sibiry; periodical online edition of Novosibirsk newspaper Novaya Sibir'; online version of the Ulyanovsk student newspaper Simbirskiy Viestnik; and St.Petersburg magazine "Sankt-Peterburgskiy Universitet" (St.Petersburg University)."

Q: As a trainer of Russian digital journalists, what do students coming out of universities need to know to prosper in the age of the Internet?

A: "Our students should know the professional and computer skills as well as English and/or other foreign languages."

Q: Can you give me a sense of the Internet infrastructure in Russia? That is, how quickly is use of the Internet spreading -- among journalists, but also among the public?

A: "The number of Internet users in Russia is doubling each year. Currently we have about 1 million users (population of Russia is 150 million). And about 150,000 of them have an Internet Protocol connection and can surf the World Wide Web. That number is doubling every six months! And Russian journalists are the most active and dynamic part of the public."

The Mass Media Center at the School of Journalism at St. Petersburg University has a Web site offering information about its programs. Information is in English and Russian. The Center operates a Summer School on Russian Media in St. Petersburg.

Contact: Dmitry A. Ruschin, Ph.D.,


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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