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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Relearns Journalism

While much of Russia's post-communist press veers uncertainly between conjecture, bias and straightforward untruth, Lisa Schillinger, co-director of the Russian-American Press and Information Center, is one important voice that insists on the primacy of fact.


"The Russian media has always been strong on opinion, weak on fact", Schillinger says. "There is a notion among Russian journalists that it's somehow belittling to go out in search of facts, that only flunkies go reporting, while true journalists sit and think. We say, yes, thinking is important but so are facts. We want to encourage fact-based reporting and commentary".


Such is the center's mission, and with a small but well-stocked library, numerous English- and Russian-language databases and regular seminars on a variety of current issues, it is able to provide facts in abundance. Schillinger acknowledges, however, that free access to information is only one requisite for the development of a genuinely modern press in Russia: With all but three of the country's national newspapers subsidized by the government, the lack of independent financing is also a major obstacle.


For the moment, Schillinger sees no obvious solution to this funding dilemma: "It's dangerous for Americans to come here and insist that papers should be advertising-driven. When people won't pay 200 rubles to go to a movie because it's too expensive, who's going to advertise a car in the paper? We assume that full press democracy will not be realized until the economy is much stronger", she says.


Schillinger believes that Russia will follow the American pattern insofar as the importance of the central press is likely to diminish -- "Like America, Russia is too big to be serviced by the central mass media; the regional press will grow stronger" -- and the Center is due to establish off-shoots in St. Petersburg and other big cities, as yet unannounced, from January 1994, using money from a new American private fund, the Eurasia Foundation.


In general, however, she expects Russia to find its own path in the future: "Russian journalists are men and women of letters. There is much more of a tradition among them of education in the humanities, of culture. Russian journalism may develop in the European style, or more likely it will be entirely distinct", she says.


Schillinger herself, who was appointed co-director of the Center in May, is well qualified to contribute toward the evolution of Russia's post-communist press. She first came to Russia as a student in 1970, "one semester behind Bill Clinton", and has been coming regularly since then to pursue her research into the regional media. In the United States, she has been involved in academic journalism since 1984, first at Oklahoma State University and more recently at Mount Vernon College in Washington, D. C.


With her background, she sees her appointment to the center as a "very natural thing", but concedes that in general the upper reaches of the Russian media world remain largely a male preserve. "We are trying to organize a seminar with aid from the International Women's Media Foundation on 'Women in Media Management' and we will come up with the people we need, but we'll be drawing on the whole of Russia to do so. Mostly women are in advertising, you don't see many in editorial positions", she says.


Schillinger, however, is positive about the treatment she personally has received as a highly placed woman in Russia: "I get the best of all worlds. My power and authority are given to me by the American director in New York. Here, the old rules may still apply, but they can't affect my status. and I enjoy the chivalry: People carry my briefcase, they open doors for me. I was brought up with that and I'm comfortable with it".


Besides, she says, one struggle -- to inform and hopefully help reform the Russian media -- is enough for her: "There are too many other battles to fight to make feminism an issue in all your dealings. I'm a feminist at home but here I'll leave the battle to them".


Already tapping on her computer at 8: 45 on a Sunday morning, Schillinger is engaged in a battle of another sort: to keep the Center running efficiently in frequently unfavorable Russian conditions. "We have a wonderful Russian-American staff, but everything here takes about three times as long as it does at home. Nothing is simple, but then everything is interesting. Maybe that's why I'm here".