Take an amateur RAS* student, still recovering from an intense period of studying and research. Now, remove all assignments, give her a blog and far more time than she could ever use, but keep her curiosity about Russia intact. What do you get? Exploratory and opinion posts!
This is another of those rare times when I’ll actually share my raw thoughts about something, and this time it’s about five prominent (or not so prominent) media outlets in the Russosphere. I use all five of these sites for either language practice or news. There’s no guarantee you’ll agree with my criticisms, but I try to offer resolutions when possible. So here’s my opinion of each Russia media outlet, for what it’s worth.
The mission of inoSMI is to translate news pieces from all over the world, from their original languages (for example, English, French, German, etc.) into Russian. InoSMI is a fantastic source of news and opinions, and it is one of my favorite resources for Russian reading and vocabulary practice. I don’t read it religiously or anything, since I don’t have much time to spare, but there’s always something interesting there; the comment forums are lively. With the comments, I get to read Russian as it’s actually used in informal situations, as compared to how I use it in class (mostly discussing classic Russian lit). Another feature which makes inoSMI a great resource is that the original piece is linked within the translation. So after a RU to ENG translation exercise or vocab exercise, I can go back and read the original article to see if I got the words right.
But I’ve noticed something strange about inoSMI: there’s a surprising amount of egregious anti-Russian agitprop from the foreign press on the site. Like, anti-Russian op-eds by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anne Applebaum and such. Not that there’s anything particularly bad about that – after all, the purpose of the site is to inoculate Russians against foreign “propaganda”, right? And you can’t do that without providing examples, right?
Apparently not. After digging a little deeper into inoSMI’s history, I discovered it’s actually a neo-liberal enterprise. It was created by Russian liberals who wanted to bring the Western POV to ordinary Russians (who I’m assuming they thought were brainwashed by Putinite ways of thinking or someth.). I found a Wikipedia piece about inoSMI’s founder Yaroslav Ognev which quotes him as saying:
InoSMI broadens one’s conscience. It occurred so, that it’s read by those who aren’t satisfied with the Russian press. By those, who are touched with the intelligence of Western journalists and experts, their professionalism and analytical capabilities. By those, who understand a deal of the free media, democracy and Russian bears that they love so much … The activity of InoSmi led yet to the one sensible result — foreign media now can be considered actually worldwide. They are not only being avidly read, but also loved in Russia. Without that “avid” love of the Russian people the audience of the foreign media would be incomplete and their influence won’t be worldwide.
So that’s that, I guess. I’m not sure how successful the project has been then, since many articles from The Source of Truth are mocked in the comments as being BS. Still, inoSMI’s a very useful site.
Russia Insider →
Russia Insider was launched in September 2014 by a group of expats living in Russia who felt that coverage of Russia is biased and inaccurate. Its declared goal is to combat one-sided negative coverage of Russia in the Western MSM.
I hold Russia Insider in similar regard as I do RT: There are a handful of very respectable and balanced experts writing for RI (like Danielle Ryan and Brian MacDonald for RT), and its media criticism is often spot-on in my opinion, but there are also many pieces that are far below that. And don’t even get me started on the discussions going on in the comment sections. RI is definitely more emotional than cerebral in its Russia coverage – I’m not sure that’s a good thing. See this article for an example of how emotional appeals can weaken what could be a very good piece.
Still, I’ve got to admire RI’s passion and efforts to correct misconceptions about modern Russia – few news outlets even bother to try. I think RI has the potential to become a very good source of information on Russia – with a little cleanup of its editorial policy. Often RI seems to be too one-sided in its treatment of issues; this could be resolved by providing well-argued but opposing views and allowing the readers to make up their own minds. The inclusion of more scholarly articles and in-depth analysis could be an added plus, though I understand RI might not have the resources. Also, less ‘spiritual values’ and ad hominem, please.
One last thought: though Russia Insider has every right and very good reason to be skeptical of the MSM, I don’t think labeling one’s site as THE Media Skeptic site is going to attract wider readership. Whether we want to admit it or not, in the present political climate there are many people who will dismiss an otherwise good site simply because it identifies with alternative media (which they’ll likely think of as the home of loopy conspiracy theories).
Johnson’s Russia List →
The JRL is another great resource for the Russia-watcher on the go. It aggregates many of the web Russia articles published daily onto the JRL site and into an easy-to-read email newsletter, so you don’t have to visit all of those news outlets individually for your Russia fix. JRL strives to be a balanced resource by including all voices from Russia Today to Radio Free Europe. Unfortunately, the sad reality of the information war is that most of those articles collected in the daily newsletter will be of the Western or anti-Russian viewpoint.
Russian Insight →
I discovered Russia Insight by accident one day as I was browsing Twitter. The best that I can describe it as is “off-JRL”. It has no editors, only an algorithm that browses Twitter, YouTube and over 110 news portals to aggregate the most popular and talked about Russia content, as decided by fellow Internet users. In my opinion, it has the same irremediable problem as the JRL, because of its reliance on trending stories.
PolitRussia is another site I found on Twitter. It’s apparently an online magazine that was launched in 2014 to “create objective media, and take part in a constructive debate with the audience” (создания объективного СМИ и привлечь к участию в конструктивной дискуссии аудиторию). I haven’t been reading PolitRussia for long, and like the other portals I don’t read it religiously, but I have noticed a fairly diverse range of opinions among articles: conservative, statist, liberal and even what I call “pseudo-patriotic”. Pro-government and anti-government. So that’s good.
That’s all I can really say about PolitRussia, since again, I haven’t been reading it for that long.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Know of any other good sites that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments below. I’m always looking for new things to read.
*Russian area studies.