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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tabloids' New Breed of Reporter

Tell Safa Efendieva that a Russian pop star is on a crash diet, and she'll be curious. Tell her about the star's illegitimate son in Africa and you'll have made her day.


Efendieva, 26, is one of a new breed of reporters in Moscow who makes a living from the personal tidbits and scandals of celebrities. She is a tabloid reporter.


Armed with a dictaphone and a mission to gossip, Efendieva said she considers herself a pioneer in covering the kind of news that under communism was censored from the newspapers.


"Journalists could write only about the music, about how well an artist sang, about how many flowers decorated the stage, about nothing," said Efendieva, one of two journalists covering music at Speed-Info, a colorful monthly tabloid. The paper usually features a busty, scantily clad blond on its cover, and takes up subjects like sexually transmitted diseases, child prostitution, domestic violence and the personal lives of pop stars.


"Today people can read about the stars' lives behind the stage, about lives which before they only imagined. And they really want to know, for example, where stars vacation, who they sleep with, whether or not they're real people with real problems," said Efendieva. Speed-Info has a circulation of 4 million nationwide, and close to another dozen tabloids are flourishing around Russia.


Masha Zaks, a 26-year-old secretary, likes to pick up a copy before getting onto the metro. "It makes the time go by very quickly," she said. "Five years ago it may have been too far on the edge, but judging from other things I have read, I think it's about average."


British student Benjamin Carey, 25, reads the paper fairly regularly for the jokes, the cartoons, and, of course, the dirt.


"Generally it's a good laugh and quite interesting, which is more than you can say about tabloids in the west, which are full of 'I left him because he was sleeping with my hamster' kind of stories," Carey said.


"Its researchers do very well -- there's a lot more hard facts than over here [Britain], but then Russians are generally better educated."


Efendieva began working as a tabloid reporter in 1993, and studied foreign publications like The Sun and Playboy for guidance.


While she believes "the more scandalous the better," Efendieva abides by Speed-Info's policy of not running a story about a star without the celebrity's approval and comment -- a practice that often leaves her empty-handed.


"We can't afford to offend them or they will never speak to us again," she said. Pop singer Filipp Kirkorov hasn't spoken to Efendieva for two years now since she asked him on a national television program why he didn't sleep with pop legend Alla Pugacheva on their wedding night.


Efendieva is well aware that her play-it-safe practice can end up allowing celebrities to manipulate the paper for their own publicity. "Sure we're afraid they are using us for propaganda," she said. "But, hey, let it be propaganda, as long as it's interesting."


Efendieva doesn't tiptoe around her stories just to protect stars' egos. Reporting scandal can be dangerous, as she learned in her first gig at what she calls "a much more yellow publication." Last year Efendieva wrote a story about Russia's first female general, Juna Davitashvili. It turned out the military had bestowed upon her a general's outfit but not the powers that come with the title. Efendieva wrote up those facts but objected to the sensational title slapped on by her editors: "Juna Davitashvili is an Imposter."


"The consequences were real," Efendieva said. "Davitashvili is also a well-known magician, and threatened to cast a curse on me. I was so scared that for months I went to the doctor and even thought I had cancer." Efendieva left the paper within a month.


"This is not a safe subject for journalists," said Efendieva. "There are several instances in which people have been beaten up -- who knows by whom -- apparently for attempting to pull down a star."


Despite the occupational hazards, Efendieva dreams of the big time. She hopes to go to the U.S. and report on American stars for the Russian press.