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Russia's Dysfunctional Media Culture

Tuesday, August 1, 2000

In all the recent western attention to the corruption and racketeering of Russia’s leadership, one critical fact of life has gone largely overlooked. In the eight years since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., all efforts to create a free press — including myriad U.S. media assistance programs — have failed. Indeed: Russians, particularly those in the outer provinces, are as ill-informed today about their leadership’s wanton debauchery of the nation’s assets as when Stalin and Brezhnev reigned.

Throughout the past decade, my wife and I advised newspapers on business practices in 10 communist bloc countries from the Sea of Japan to the Gulf of Finland. We consulted with editors, journalists, and executives in more than 100 newspaper offices and observed printing production in more than three dozen press and mailing operations. At the beginning of the decade, as we witnessed, virtually all Eastern Europeans doubted the notion that profit making and media independence were inextricably intertwined. Today, by contrast, many newspapers are independent, editorially and financially, in Warsaw Pact countries and former Yugoslav republics.

But independent newspapers are still hard to find in most former Soviet republics, particularly in Russia. From 95 percent to 98 percent of its approximately 2,700 regional and rural newspapers (mostly dailies) remain government mouthpieces. They are owned by municipalities, counties, or small republics. Virtually none are viable as independent economic units. This statistic is confirmed by both the Russian Journalist Association and the Glasnost Defense Foundation, a media think tank financed by the United States, unesco, and several European nongovernmental organizations (ngos). Russia has a two-tiered press: national and provincial. Problems at the national level are bad enough. But in the hinterland, where more than 90 percent of Russians live, newspapers lack even a basic commitment to an informed citizenry.

News vs. advertising

During communism’s heyday, newspapers were vital parts of the political-economic apparatus. Publications had gigantic circulations. Most adults were involuntary subscribers through automatic wage and pension deductions. The local daily was printed on a state owned press, which shared quarters with the editorial staff, in one of the community’s most important buildings, the press-printing palace. In large cities it often dominated the landscape. In capital cities it was likely a skyscraper.

The historical roots of the problem are plain enough. In 1991 and 1992, when the Soviet Union fell apart, press control passed from the Communist Party to local governments. Transfer of ownership was a two-step process. Soviet-style worker cells took over at each publication when the party went out of business. But after a few days, or at most a few months, it became apparent that the workers had neither the capital, nor the management and financial skills, to run newspapers.

Equally important, but less apparent, was the fact that there were no Western-type department stores, food supermarkets, car dealerships, or high-fashion shops that depend on large amounts of newspaper advertising to sustain their operations. City, county, or provincial governments stepped up and accepted responsibility for meeting newspaper payrolls and producing publications on a regular basis. For the average Russian, nothing changed. The Communist Party and local government were perceived as the same — and for many Russians, they still are. To fully comprehend this, it helps to recall that President Putin rules Russia not only as a successor to the democratically elected Boris Yeltsin, but also in the succession of Lenin, Stalin, and Gorbachev, whose official title was general secretary of the Communist Party. Today, local governments continue to exercise absolute control over the flow of information, and editors and journalists are government shills.

Then there is the problem of commercial tradition — or lack thereof. In the developed world, advertising revenues finance a vibrant, independent press. But the potential to sell enough advertising to support daily newspapers does not exist in Russia’s heartland. Comparison shopping, discounting, clearance sales, pay-later gimmicks, promotions, premiums, and coupons: All these are alien to the Russian tradition. Department stores and supermarkets are not organized to promote themselves aggressively. Although there is plenty of slick, sophisticated merchandising in Moscow and St. Petersburg, even in the largest provincial cities the main department store is virtually the same as in Soviet times — except Western products are offered for sale. Clothing is piled on crude tables. There is no effort to promote particularly attractive or well-priced items. While Western made small appliances such as clocks, calculators, blow dryers,CD players, and tape recorders sell well in department stores, sales are properly attributed to pent-up demand, not aggressive merchandising. (In late 1999, Ekaterinburg’s main department store sold Japanese made electronic calculators on one floor, while on another floor invoices were calculated on an abacus.)

In every sizeable city, advertising and news are split off from each other, with each presented separately in stand-alone publications. For at least the past 50 years, the Communist Party owned a classified advertising commercial paper in every city where it owned a large newspaper. Frequency was daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on the city’s size. Even doctrinaire Marxists needed an ad medium for a family to dispose of a deceased relative’s clothes, furniture, and appliances, as well as to create a used car marketplace, without which new autos cannot be sold to the public. Today, all cities of more than 300,000 have several of these periodicals. All are privately owned. Many are hugely profitable. Several publish nationwide, with distribution in the millions and classified ad counts well up in the thousands. The two largest are Extra-M, with a circulation of 3 million, and Everything-for-You, which is produced in 45 different regional editions and has a circulation in excess of 2 million.

Almost all classified advertising shoppers list hundreds of cars and apartments for sale. In some regions, there are even more barter offerings. After all, many state enterprises pay their workers three to four months in arrears, and barter is part of survival. In regions where sugar beets are grown or electric light bulbs manufactured, the local classified publication usually has hundreds of swap ads for large quantities of refined sugar or light bulbs. Workers are paid in-kind and must barter their in-kind wages for other commodities they need.

Private enterprise "shoppers" consisting solely of advertising dominate the classified marketplace. I am unaware of any Russian city where a general circulation daily newspaper is itself the classified advertising leader. U.S. newspapers are not viable without classifieds. Forty to 50 percent of advertising revenue in U.S. and U.K. metropolitan dailies comes from classifieds, and a substantially larger percentage of profits. But prospects are dim for developing large classified ad sections in Russia’s daily newspapers. Such advertising’s effectiveness is directly related to ad volume. Job applicants, barterers, used car buyers, and apartment seekers get their best results from the medium with the most offerings. They will pay a premium to advertise in a publication with 500 offerings in preference to one with 50, regardless of the publication’s circulation or content. In classified advertising, success builds on success.

There is also a sociological factor here: the enduring Marxist notion that advertising is exploitative and dirty. The powerful journalist associations, as well as most individual journalists, still believe that writing for a news publication with large ads compromises a journalist’s integrity. News and commentary should not be mixed with crass commerce. This bias is unique to countries emerging from communism. Newspapers in capitalist countries have always presented advertising and news side by side. In 1800, the most common name for an American newspaper was "The Advertiser," often in combination with "Gazette," "Chronicle," or "Courier."

Ethics in black, white, and gray

Corruption is, of course, endemic in Russia. Payoffs and kickbacks are routine: Doctors and dentists will only see patients if they make advance payments above the official fee schedule. Baggage at airports is regularly judged overweight unless the person behind the counter receives a payoff (preferably in U.S. dollars). Cabinet ministries are coveted because subordinates and appointees must regularly remit to the boss. Breaches of Western ethical standards are not only tolerated, but also sanctioned, sometimes institutionalized.

So it should come as no surprise to learn that paying reporters and editors for the publication of news stories — particularly on page one — is generally accepted as fair and appropriate. Most journalists I spoke with thought it proper to accept payment for a news story. They saw it as compensation for value received. A regional editor explained why he disagreed with the notion that nothing on page one should be sold. When Ford opened a parts distribution center in his city, the newspaper’s lead story was about the building’s dedication. It included a picture of the mayor cutting a ribbon. The same day, a Taurus ad with a picture of the car, logo, and descriptive copy appeared on page five. In the United States, Ford would have been charged for the Taurus ad, but it would be considered unethical to receive payment for the front-page news story. However, the Russian newspaper charged Ford more for the page one story than for the ad. Both were perceived as commercial promotions, but the front page story was of more use to Ford.

The distinction U.S. editors make between front page news and advertising copy is arbitrary and contrived, the editor argued. In another city, government officials pay local journalists for publishing their press releases. In an environment where all newspapers are government funded, this was defended as a form of subsidy. One mayor’s spokesperson challenged me to ethically distinguish between indirect and direct taxpayer subsidy. Russians have no institutional memory of independent, objective newspapers. The grandparents and great-grandparents of today’s journalists never read a newspaper that was not a Communist Party propaganda sheet.

The notion that lying about money is inevitable makes the sale of advertising particularly difficult. All circulation figures are assumed to be overstated and distorted. Before buying newspaper space, an advertiser or ad agency tries to determine the magnitude of the circulation’s misstatement, as well as the rate schedule’s misrepresentation. Excessive taxation and regulation make publishers reluctant to allow auditors to review circulation and financial figures. Each advertising sale is an ad hoc negotiation.

To all kinds of financial questions, I almost always received the same response: Do you want "black," "white," or "gray" figures? Do you want real numbers or official ones? This was true whether I was asking a publisher about sales and profits, a journalist about wages and benefits, a newspaper salesperson about circulation, or an advertising executive about space rates and commissions. No one I talked with expressed shame or remorse about a financial lie.

Many post-communist media laws were intended to perpetuate Marxist thinking. Publications cannot compete on the basis of price. A national anti-monopoly statute makes it a crime to sell individual newspapers below production and distribution costs. Since government owned newspapers are printed on state owned presses, this is an often insurmountable bar to market entry by independent publications. Similarly, use of the word "discount" in advertising rate cards or subscription promotions is prohibited. Advertising is taxed to the advertiser at a higher rate than most other services. A 1993 law caps at 40 percent the amount of space in each issue that can be devoted to advertising. Most U.S. metropolitan papers allocate 50 to 60 percent of their space to advertising; a few have more than 60 percent. A similar restriction in the U.S. would kill off many big city newspapers, particularly Sunday editions.

The politicians’ press

As a consequence of these historical, sociological, and cultural factors, the regional newspaper’s candidate almost always wins local elections. Opponents get virtually no press coverage. Favored candidates have a free ride, because bureaucrat-journalists in the employ of local governments never question the mayor or governor’s favorites about character, finances, programs, voting records, or corruption. Inquisitive, fair-minded journalists are kept tightly in check. Moreover, since no regional newspaper subscribes to an international wire service, Russians outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg are ignorant of the larger world of which they are a part. This makes xenophobia and increased hostility to the West inevitable.

Several local jurisdictions passed laws in the 1990s intended to impede, if not prevent, investigative reporting. The 1994 Bashkortostan Code on the Rights and Responsibilities of the Media defines "invasion of privacy" as the publication of any information about a person without the person’s prior consent. This means that even if it is proven in court that a person stole or took bribes, the thief or bribe-taker can sue a newspaper and win if those facts are published without his permission.

In November 1999, when I met with newspaper executives from 31 different publications in Sverdlosk Oblast (Russian Asia’s most populous county, where Boris Yeltsin once served as governor), it was pointed out that government media ownership scares away commercial advertisers. Buying advertising space in a mayor or governor’s publication is seen as a form of a payoff, nothing more. Small-time entrepreneurs see voluntary advertising — even when it has the legitimate purpose of selling merchandise — as a potential source of trouble. If opposition candidates come to power, they will be harassed (tax police, fire wardens, building inspectors, health code investigators will visit them). If the mayor or governor’s candidates prevail, the ante for the next payoff will be upped.

To executives like the ones I met, U.S. newspapers are considered interesting curiosities, not models to be copied. Russia’s current newspaper publishing system is defended and praised. Government involvement in news coverage is not challenged, often enthusiastically welcomed. Editors and reporters who make individual news judgments about the importance, or relevance, of political press releases, legislative agendas, or public events are seen as usurping elected officials’ prerogative to communicate directly with the electorate. Provincial front pages usually consist of partisan political and economic commentary, staged pictures of politicians cutting ribbons or greeting foreign dignitaries, and government press releases. They are dull, without immediacy. Over the years, I have routinely asked editors why a potential subscriber should buy their paper in preference to the competition. The answers were always similar: "Making comparisons between newspapers is unethical." Communist notions about head-to-head competition still prevail.

Local newspapers are virtually devoid of crime, business, or political coverage in which all sides of an issue are presented. News about roads, schools, art museums, and industrial policy is considered insignificant and trivial.

By many measures, the most straightforward, objective regional news appears in locally edited inserts in the country’s two most popular weeklies, Youth Pravda Weekly (circulation 2 million) and Argument & Fact (circulation 3 million). Headquartered in Moscow, each publishes more than a dozen regional editions printed at local production facilities throughout the country. Regional editions contain snippets about area events, usually unembellished. In most medium-size cities, the two big national papers outcirculate the indigenous product. In Primorske Krai (Far East), it is estimated that the Youth Pravda Weekly sells 37,000 copies and Argument & Fact sells 45,000. Although the inside pages contain articles with political content and bias prepared in Moscow, most page one articles have more in common with the National Enquirer than with U.S. and Western European front pages.

At Ekaterinburg Humanitarian University and South Urals State University, I asked journalism seniors which newspapers they read regularly. Almost all read Argument & Fact and the local all-advertising shopper. A majority also read Youth Pravda. In both classes, less than 10 of 60 students read the local daily.

In every provincial newspaper, the best-read feature is the TV schedule, which all newspapers publish. The more comprehensive, the better. Small rural weeklies devote one-fourth of their space to TV programs. Circulation doubles, sometimes triples, on Thursday or Friday when most dailies publish the next week’s TV schedules. Youth Pravda claims to publish the country’s most comprehensive television listings. One of its regional editors attributes its continuing growth to three features: detailed TV schedules, superior crossword puzzles, and a sexy front page — in that order.

Horoscopes are another Russian newspaper staple. Some daily newspapers publish three or four different astrological features. Horoscopes were also popular when the communists ruled. The importance of astrology in Russia is linked to 70 years of doctrinaire Marxism during which citizens were taught that religion was the opiate of the masses. Astrology, not religion, explained the unfathomable.

Last spring, I spent five hours with executives and staff at Vladivostok News, whose claim to 80,000 circulation (the true figure is approximately 50,000) makes it Russian Asia’s largest daily (four days per week, Tuesday through Friday). Founded in 1991 shortly before the Soviet Union broke up, its young editor proudly describes it as the first "alternative newspaper" east of the Urals. This means that it was always owned by the municipality, instead of first by the Communist Party. But it was never independent. It just had different sponsorship, different loyalties.

The company’s 120 employees include 46 journalists and six English language Internet employees, a substantial portion of whose salaries are paid by USAID. A reporter’s nominal monthly wage is $175. Bonuses, awarded arbitrarily by management, as well as payoffs from politicians and businesses, increase most journalists’ wages outside the tax collector’s purview. Some earn more than the editor in chief.

Notwithstanding its connection with Vladivostok’s officialdom — or maybe because of it — Vladivostok News was forced to secure a three month bank loan at an annual interest rate of 46 percent during the 1998 financial crisis. The Russian central bank required that all loans be at a minimum of 32 percent, while a local Vladivostok bank added a 14 percent surcharge. During this period, reporters were not paid.

The city government’s officially acknowledged financial control has not scared away outside "investors." Approximately 25 percent of the newspaper’s shares are owned by journalists or corporations. Nobody at the newspaper was forthcoming about how the corporations and journalists paid for their shares, but the journalist association’s executive director said it was common knowledge. Politically wired journalists were given shares as gifts, and companies doing business with the city paid the mayor personally for their shares.

In 1997, the newspaper’s news and business staff moved from the press-printing palace to a new, freestanding, six-story building. How it was financed is an enigma. Both the editor and the publisher say the building was paid for with cash. There is no mortgage. Pressed as to how they accumulated so much cash in less than five years in a confiscatorily high tax environment, their response was drop-dead cocky: business acumen.

The editor of a national paper’s Far East edition has another explanation. The mayor provided his institutional flacks with a modern building, fancy offices, new furniture, and luxury appointments, such as a credenza bar with a refrigerator off the editor’s office and exotic art in the conference room. Before 1992, the Communist Party regularly rewarded favored newspaper executives and reporters with luxury apartments, private cars, vacation dachas, and trips abroad. Plus ça change.

The city’s journalist association — which represents almost all professionals — has legal status. It can challenge a newspaper’s management on any editorial position it takes, including commentary on political and economic issues. Journalists who object to the way in which their copy is edited can also appeal through the association to an independent arbitration board.

Vladivostok has both upscale and downscale all-advertising periodicals. Ten years after Russia’s leadership acknowledged that the idea of a classless society was both unobtainable and undesirable, advertising publications in big cities are organized according to economic classes. The city’s most formidable upscale, all-advertising publication is Business Compass, an 88 page magazine with a coated-paper color cover. In addition to several thousand individual classified offerings, there are small display ads promoting Rado, Tissot, Longines, and Raymond Weil watches; Pampers, Pantene, and Tampax personal products; Tetley and Lipton teas; Nestle, Mars, and Cadbury candy bars; Winston, Parliament, Camel, L&M, and Marlboro cigarettes; Parker and Waterman pens; and Zippo and Ronson lighters. In Vladivostok, as in Moscow and St. Petersburg, a mysterious cadre of newly affluent "businessmen" has lots of money to spend.

Rob Coalson, a former Russian Studies instructor at Cornell who heads the National Press Institute’s business development department, says there are no more than five independent daily newspapers in Russia financed by advertising revenues, excluding oligarch owned national newspapers. Press observers at the U.S. embassy in Moscow and the U.S. consulate in Ekaterinburg agree.

A model that works

One of the few dailies which may survive and prevail is Chelyabinsk Worker, which is published in a grimy, besooted industrial city of 1.2 million in the Ural Mountain foothills. Over a period of 10 hours last November, I met with Chelyabinsk Worker’s editor-publisher, Boris Kirshin, as well as subordinate editors, journalists, and advertising salespeople. The paper has developed a unique economic arrangement that makes financial independence a realistic and realizable goal. Its corporate structure acknowledges both advertising’s indispensable role in media independence and Russia’s deep-seated cultural bias against it.

Chelyabinsk Worker is the corporate umbrella for three stand-alone periodicals: a six to eight page broadsheet daily newspaper, an eight page weekly tabloid for display ads, and a 16 to 32 page weekly tabloid for classified ads. The classified advertising publication has a circulation of 18,000 and sells for four rubles (10 cents). The display advertising tabloid has a circulation of 200,000 and is distributed free. The daily (Tuesday through Saturday) claims a circulation of 41,000 and also sells for four rubles. (All circulation figures are probably substantially overstated.) Prior to January 1992, when all party members were forced to subscribe, Chelyabinsk Worker’s circulation was 360,000.

Revenues from Chelyabinsk Worker’s stand-alone advertising tabloids are adequate to support the newspaper’s news, production, and distribution operations. The newspaper company funds its independence with advertising sales, but has adjusted the format (news and advertising in separate publications) to comply with Marxism’s ever-present vestiges. While the combination of advertising and news on the same page or at least in the same publication is a long established custom in the West, the format is not essential to financing independent newspapers. What is important is to capture the three revenue streams — circulation, display advertising, and classified advertising — necessary for financially stable newspaper enterprises. Chelyabinsk Worker has done this.

The fact that the display advertising tabloid is free and the classified advertising publication costs 10 cents is explained by the different way the two publications sell advertising. Ads in the display advertising tabloid are sold for cash or barter, as is typical in the United States. Ads in the classified advertising tabloid are free, but each ad must be submitted on a dated coupon clipped from the publication. Coupons cannot be photocopied or faxed. If an individual wishes to publish the same ad several weeks in a row, a new copy of the publication must be purchased each week. If a person wishes to sell both a car and a piano, two copies must be purchased and two separate coupons submitted. Each of the 4,200 classified ads in the November 5, 1999 issue represented a 10 cent newsstand sale. Although the classified tabloid is an all-advertising publication, most of its revenue comes from circulation sales. In a country where neither credit cards nor checking accounts are widely accepted, this is a practical way to sell small ads in large volume. In addition to circulation revenue, if an ad includes special features — if it is more than 10 words or has borders, boldface type, logos, or illustrations — advertisers must pay substantial premiums.

Kirshin is one of the few Russian editors who criticizes incumbent municipal officials. And the political powers that be have retaliated through the courts. The paper may be repossessed by the Chelyabinsk Oblast, the surrogate for the Communist Party which formerly had title to it. The Oblast Committee for Securities Claims alleges that in 1992 the newspaper did not properly follow regional privatization ordinances. Six times during 1999, management was forced to defend various aspects of its privatization plan. Since all court decisions went against the newspaper, the umbrella corporation technically liquidated itself in November. If all court appeals fail, Kirshin believes this will make repossession more difficult.

The Russian post office

The power of mayors and governors to silence opposition media goes beyond newspaper ownership. Thousands of small-circulation periodicals with a news or political component are produced in provincial cities and towns. Almost all are housed in government owned press-printing palaces. This means that most voices of potential dissent are government tenants. The government also controls pricing and scheduling on the only high-speed printing presses in town.

There are also numerous problems with distribution, most of which is done through post office affiliates that also operate most street kiosks. Alternative delivery systems, such as FedEx and DHL, prosper in developed countries because government postal organizations are inefficient. Russia’s acute financial problems magnify its postal system’s universal inefficiencies. Periodical distribution has declined approximately 80 percent since 1991, and volume shows no sign of increasing. At the same time, rates have been hiked annually.

Delivery to the ubiquitous Soviet-built, worker high-rise apartments is unreliable. Buildings with six floors or fewer rarely have elevators. Most were built without mail boxes in the entryway. If mailboxes were included in the original construction, most are now worn out, broken, and do not lock. Mail is dumped indiscriminately in entrance halls by postal workers. Some reaches the addressee. Much does not.

As in Soviet times, the post office maintains all subscription lists, as well as payment and billing information. Newspapers do not have ready access to their own records. This is, of course, the opposite of the practice in the West, where publishers control subscriber lists, billing, and labeling, as well as renewal letters and promotional literature mailing schedules. When these become postal bureaucracy functions, publishers no longer control their destinies. Promoting one publication in competition with another is virtually impossible, as are billing and collecting on special schedules. Promotional efforts are equalized at the lowest possible level. This Soviet system allows Big Brother to know who subscribes to which publications, and whether subscription bills are current.

Although there are no limitations on entrepreneurs owning kiosks, overregulation makes kiosk operation unattractive to most private operators. Kiosks are legally required to have over 100 publications available for purchase at all times. Promoting a particular publication, special edition, or new feature, and special pricing are legally prohibited. This is a carryover from the Marxist notion that all periodicals should be displayed more or less equally. In addition to periodicals, kiosks sell cigarettes, candy, toiletries, snacks, sodas, beer, trinkets, film, batteries, and drug sundries. They are more like convenience stores than newsstands. Kiosks are an essential part of Russian merchandising. Even in small cities, there are several hundred.

In isolated hamlets, local governments publish newspapers in obscure, almost extinct, languages. Editors and journalists who produce them do so without benefit of dictionaries or grammar books. The importance of newspapers in Yakutian, Altai, Tartar, Baskir, and Chuvash cannot be underestimated. Peasants and herdsmen have almost no other contact with national politics or the outside world. Provincial governments also publish dailies in better known languages such as Ukrainian, Turkish, Uzbek, and Yiddish. Last March I spent several hours with the staffs of Golden Horn and BusinessARS, two weeklies in Russia’s Far East that claim circulations of 20,000. Both editors said their publications were "independent" but were unable to name a single nongovernment shareholder when pressed for facts to support the claim. Both are local government tenants, printed in a press-printing palace, and use all official press releases unedited. Neither will be economically self-sufficient in the foreseeable future, if ever. Still, through the years both papers have received substantial technical assistance and financial support from the National Press Institute, USAID, Eurasia Foundation, and USIA, all funded by the American taxpayer.

A better approach

What, if anything, can be done to meliorate these depressing realities? I believe the U.S. government’s approach to media aid in Russia is unsound and wrongheaded. It is futile to try to promote the development of independent newspapers where the advertising potential is not great enough to support them financially. Russia’s retailing and advertising infrastructures will not be changed quickly, if at all. Western sponsored aid programs will certainly not change them. One usaid funded organization, the National Press Institute, has trained 130,000 Russian journalists and news executives in 2,800 workshops and seminars since 1992. What came out was the same thing that went in: bureaucratic functionaries and propagandists. To continue the current U.S. assistance programs is throwing good money after bad.

Media assistance programs should start at the beginning, instead of the end. Mid-career training for Russian journalists, editors, and news executives will continue to be an exercise in futility until university faculties and curriculums are reformed. Journalism professors must learn that Marxist methods of gathering and disseminating news are inefficient and socially destructive.

Unless journalism education standards are changed, editors and reporters will continue to think like their communist predecessors. Graduates of the country’s 65 officially recognized university journalism departments enter the work force with virtually no exposure to Western concepts of objective reportage, journalism ethics, financial independence, or the media’s role as government watchdog.

In 1999 there were approximately 11,800 Russian journalism students. One-third attend the country’s three largest universities: Moscow State, St. Petersburg State, and Urals State. Experienced newspaper and broadcast professionals are almost never accredited to university faculties. Most deans and lecturers have held their positions for more than a decade. They were trained as Marxists, and there has been almost no professional-level training for college faculties since the Soviet breakup. While course titles and descriptions were revised in the early 1990s, reading assignments and lecture content were only changed superficially, cosmetically.

The staples of journalism college curriculums in pre-Yeltsin Russia were, "Theory and Practice of a Party Press," "Dialectic Materialism," "Historic Materialism," and "Marxism-Leninism." Journalism studies are still administrative parts of philology departments, where practical journalism courses are rarely, if ever, taught. Today’s most popular courses include, "Slavic Philology," "Theory of Literature," "Applied Linguistics," "Mass Media Techniques," and "The Culture of the Russian Community Abroad."

The five-year officially sanctioned syllabus includes 186 weeks of lectures, of which 170 deal with theory and 16 with practical journalism. By U.S. standards, the practical courses are abstractions. None include segments on writing stories under deadline pressure, or searching data bases on-line for information.

Faculty biases, politics, and turf wars are as much a part of Russia’s college scene as they are in the United States. Foreign consultants, advisors, or visiting professors with new ideas about curriculum content will not be welcomed with open arms. They will be seen as interlopers and meddlers, particularly if they are sponsored by a U.S. government agency.

On the other hand, I believe, most journalism academics — regardless of their political orientation and prejudices — would gladly accept expense-paid trips to the U.S. to observe its robust, independent media. In the groves of academe, foreign junkets were routine perks long before glasnost and perestroika. Even the most skeptical observer would return with a new understanding of America’s free press. Bringing all of Russia’s college journalism teachers to America for a few weeks would probably cost less than is currently being spent on in-country training.

Western-style newspapers and broadcast outlets, which depend on advertising funding, will not succeed in post-communist Russia. Still, if the country’s debilitating corruption is to be rooted out, young journalists must understand what the term "free press" really means. In the near future many will work for new high-tech media with a different economic model. Until the perspective of journalism college faculties changes, a broad-based consensus to repudiate dishonest politicians will not develop.

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