The Internet Has Enabled Independent Journalism To Flourish In Russia (For Now, At Least)
from the the-good-and-the-bad dept
Ben Smith has a fascinating piece in the New York Times about how independent investigative journalism is flourishing in Russia, despite an oppressive (and literally murderous) autocrat in power. There are a bunch of interesting points in the article about the various techniques they use — some of which raise interesting ethical dilemmas — but what caught my eye is just how vital it turns out the internet is to these organizations to be able to do what they do. Indeed, Smith points out that this is the flip side to the current moral panic in the US and elsewhere about “alternative media” and social media being the death of journalism:
There?s a tendency in parts of the American media right now to reflexively decry the rise of alternative voices and open platforms on social media, seeing them solely as vectors for misinformation or tools of Donald J. Trump. Russia is a potent reminder of the other side of that story, the power of these new platforms to challenge one of the world?s most corrupt governments….
The new Russian investigative media is also resolutely of the internet. And much of it began with Mr. Navalny, a lawyer and blogger who created a style of YouTube investigation that draws more from the lightweight, meme-y formats of that platform than from heavily produced documentaries or newsmagazine investigations.
The other interesting tidbit is that these independent investigative reporting outfits are not just figuring out how to break astounding stories, but also how to build up support and a business model — again, using the internet.
Mr. Badanin, who modeled Proekt on the American nonprofit news organization ProPublica, said he had begun to see another sign of intense interest: financial support from his audience. About a third of the budget that supports a staff of 12, he said, now comes from donations averaging $8, mirroring the global trend toward news organizations relying on their readers. In Russia, some of this is still nascent. For instance, a colleague in Russia, Anton Troianovski, tells me that there?s a cafe near the Kurskaya Metro station where you can add to your bill a donation to MediaZona, which was founded by two members of the protest group Pussy Riot to hold the Russian justice system to account. But the protests against Mr. Navalny?s imprisonment also seem to be driving support for independent media, a phenomenon that The Bell, another of the new independent websites, christened ?the Navalny Effect.?
Of course, the article does end on something of a dark note — with many of the journalists Smith spoke to saying they fully expect a Putin crackdown on their efforts before long. And, of course, that’s nothing new in Putin’s Russia. But, it’s still fascinating, for at least this moment in time, to see these operations springing up, breaking very big stories, and actually being able to thrive thanks to the internet. Perhaps if news organizations elsewhere focused more on building a supportive audience instead of whining to the government about how evil Facebook and Google are, they’d find support as well.