Working for A Media Revolution

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During Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's time, there was a popular saying among journalists: "Everywhere you look, life is total crap. But when you pause to think a little, life is not so bad after all."

Now that I'm getting over the feeling of humiliation after the recent State Duma elections, I often recall this saying. Let me explain why.

A television magnate from outside of Moscow wrote me the other day: "Revolutions sometimes bring positive results."

When I called a Moscow publisher to discuss business, he started the conversation by airing his frustration: "I am not a revolutionary, but I would support a revolution under certain circumstances."

Another colleague bombarded me with political jokes like "Russia is turning into a giant totalitarian sect -- not the Jehovah's Witnesses, but Putin's Witnesses."

All of these acquaintances are successful professionals and have a vested interest in the country's stability, so when they start using this type of language, it means that they are up in arms.

The weekly magazine Russian Reporter covered the election campaign in various regions. It wrote that ordinary people attended opposition party rallies primarily to hear the speakers rail against United Russia. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which was a politically stable country with a growing economy at the time, began with this same sentiment. And this is exactly what makes me worry. After all, modern revolutions are nothing more than a few days of exaltation followed by drawn-out squabbles among the winners over the choicest pieces of the pie. Who needs that?

In this light, maybe life is not so bad after all?

I am a jury member for the Andrei Sakharov award for journalism, which will be presented on Wednesday. This year, we received a lot of submissions from all over the country from newspapers that are part of the Provintsiya publishing group, headquartered in Moscow. There was nothing particularly heroic in these articles, just ordinary investigative journalism. Yet, fellow jury members who are familiar with the situation in the regions tell me that in many cities where the mass media are licking the boots of the governors, reports in Provintsiya newspapers are virtually the only hope ordinary people have for protection against lawlessness.

Here are the photo captions from Russian Reporter from their coverage of the elections: "At the Samara headquarters of A Just Russia, the atmosphere was like a persecuted underground movement"; "Stavropol Mayor Dmitry Kuzmin did not understand the new rules of the game and was the subject of a criminal investigation"; "Soldiers vote as one on Dec. 2." The weekly also included the following editorial commentary: "United Russia's campaign strategy was directed toward voters who are not versed in politics. Unfortunately, they forgot about the less numerous but more politically informed voters."

It is widely known that Russian Reporter is a Kremlin pet project financed by oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The goal of the magazine was to set an example of high-quality journalism, untainted either by the hysterical mindset of the"democratic" camp or the blood-sucking reporting typical of tabloids. The experiment has been successful.

Paradoxically, the Russian Reporter gave employment asylum to some of the best reporters from Izvestia. They were unable to bear the servile and corrupt atmosphere that dominated the newspaper since it was acquired in accordance with the Kremlin's instructions by Gazprom, whose chairman Dmitry Medvedev was just chosen as Putin's preferred successor.

And I wonder, which one of them -- Izvestia or Russian Reporter -- is working for the revolution and which is working against it.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Strategii i Praktika Izdatelskogo Biznesa, a magazine for publishing business professionals.