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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Moscow Paper, Scandal Is Name of Game

During the early days of glasnost, the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets earned a reputation as a progressive publication that "would print what others refused to publish", according to its editor in chief, Pavel Gusev.


Gusev has kept up that tradition throughout his 10-year career as editor. Moskovsky Komsomolets still prints things that no other paper does, but not because it is taking political risks. The publication has won itself the largest readership of any paper in this city -1, 539, 000 copies are printed every day - with its scandalous and not always believable reports of Moscow life.


Tabloid-style journalism has finally arrived in Russia. Even if Moskovsky Komsomolets does not yet have the topless girl on page 3 so beloved of the British tabloids, it is thriving on the same no-holds-barred approach to reporting that characterizes its counterparts in the West.


"Almost No Meat Left in Moscow", "Bullets Fly into Muscovite's Windows", "Maniac Stalks at Midnight", and "Murder in the Gas Line" are only a few of the most recent headlines in Moskovsky Komsomolets, popularly known by its initials as MK.


The titillating stories of the bizarre and the outrageous that feature on MK's front page mark a new trend in the Russian press.


During the communist period, papers were very restricted on what they wrote, making a glance through the leading dailies neither informative nor entertaining. The first Russian newspaper to print advertisements, Moskovsky Komsomolets has blazed a new path for the Russian press with its chatty, colloquial style and short, amusing bursts of information.


"We were able to find a style for the newspaper that everyone could appreciate", said Gusev, sitting in his office beneath portraits of Soviet leaders from Lenin to Yeltsin. "It is a newspaper for everyone".


MK, which is put out from a few rooms on the third floor of Moskovskaya Pravda's building on Ulitsa 1905, has a staff of 70 to 80 journalists whose average age is 25. Gusev takes pride in the fact that most of his reporters "were brought in from the street" and have received no formal training. "They have a natural writing gift", he says.


The immense popularity of MK has been won at the expense of adherence to fact. Gusev himself admits that not everything he prints is true.


"Unfortunately, you cannot believe everything you read", he said. "Information is like a rapidly flowing river. You fish out things, but time pressure does not always allow us to check everything out fully. It would be impossible for there not to be mistakes".


Gusev says that if a mistake is made, a correction is printed the next day and the journalist responsible is fined. But when it is hard to provide conclusive evidence either way, he backs up the paper's journalists.


Last week MK printed a story stating that Alla Sokolova, 55, had been sold human meat in a state shop. When contacted by other reporters, Sokolova said she had never heard the results of a test conducted by police on the cut of meat she had bought, in which she had indeed found a bullet.


It is possible that the meat she bought was human flesh; the MK journalist, Alexei Fomin, insists his source is a policeman and that the information is accurate, and no one has been able to prove otherwise. Gusev says he believes the story to be true. When asked about details like Sokolova's "dog" - the animal featured in the MK article, but Sokolova says she does not have a dog - he shrugs.


"These small details are not my concern", he said.


That attitude leaves it up to MK's readers to be sufficiently discriminating to filter out fact from fiction.


Like the conservative "The Sun", the most widely read paper in Britain, MK has the clout to influence the public with its political opinions. Gusev and his team of journalists have been able to use the newspaper to further the cause of President Boris Yeltsin, whom they openly support.


For instance, April 1, MK ran a photo on its front page of what it said was Ruslan Khasbulatov's apartment. It was huge and lavishly decorated, and more sumptuous than any Politburo flat - bound to stir more ill-feeling against the unpopular parliament speaker. When asked if he thought people would believe the story - which was, after all, an April Fool's joke - Gusev did not hesitate. "Yes, of course", he said.


Khasbulatov was reportedly enraged by the "prank", but Gusev says he did not receive any complaining phone calls. "If he had called, I would not have spoken to him anyway", said Gusev. "He is a boor, a man of no culture".