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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Russian Press Primer

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???: the mass media

In the first days of June, almost 2,000 newspaper editors and publishers from around the world will descend on Moscow for the World Association of Newspapers convention, snarling traffic, jamming restaurants and filling the Russian mass media with news about newspapers -- just the time for a short primer on Russian newspaper-speak.

Actually, the dictionary we readers -- foreign or Russian -- need on this subject would be enormous. Let's start easy. The acronym ??? stands for ???????? ???????? ?????????? (the mass media) and refers to both ???????? ? ??????????? ??? (print and electronic mass media). Sometimes this is called ???? ????? (mass media), one of many borrowings from English in Russian ???? ????? that no one here outside the Ring Road gets.

To further confuse things, ?????? (the press) means ?????? ? ??????? (newspapers and magazines), but in conversation it sometimes refers to all the mass media.

Another problem is that in the last 20 years a new kind of newspaper has appeared in Russia. ?????????? ?????? (literally "boulevard press") is the standard term for what we would call tabloids. This is also called ?????? ?????? (yellow press) or even ??????? (tabloid). The word ??????? doesn't seem to have a fixed connotation yet. Most of the time it's negative: ?????????? ?????? ???????????? ? ??????? ??????? (The Russian press has turned into a big tabloid), but you can also hear people say: ?????????? ?????????? ??????? (a great sports tabloid) about a newspaper without a single story about aliens or photo of a naked woman.

You face two problems when reading Russian newspapers: figuring out what they are saying and guessing what they aren't. When ????????? (newspaper people) talk about their professional problems, you'll hear about the mysterious ???????? (paid journalism), ?????? (literally "jeans," also paid journalism), and ???? (literally "sludge," compromising information).

When Russian reporters write about the world, it gets even more confusing. First, there are numbers: ??????? (either the security services that guard officials, once called the Ninth Directorate, or the Model Nine Zhiguli car); ??????? ????????? (the Group of Eight); ??????? ??????? (G7); and ???????? (either six countries meeting to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, a Model Six Zhiguli car, or -- in heated polemics -- nasty and crude camp slang for someone who services prisoners, and by implication, any boot-licking lackey).

And then there are people: ????? (deputies in Russia's lower house, the State Duma); ??????? (people from St. Petersburg, usually in President Vladimir Putin's circle); ??????? (??????????????? ???????????, democratic nutcases,); and ???????? (representatives of the military and security agencies and ministries).

It also helps to know English; then ???????????, ????????, and ??????? are clearly image-maker, insider, and lobbyist. Unfortunately, poor ???? ???? ? ???? (Aunt Manya in Tula) doesn't know English, so she doesn't understand.

Then there's what the papers don't say. Sources are referred to as ??????????????? or ????????????? ????????? (informed sources), sometimes ??????? ? ... (close to ...). But occasionally newspapers just write: ??? ????? ???????? ????? ?????? ... (It has become known to our paper that ...), as if the information came to the editors in a dream (or perhaps in an unsigned letter). The Russian language also allows writers to avoid citing an agent of action by eliminating even the unrevealing pronoun "they" and sticking solely to verbs and direct objects: ??????? ?????, ?????? ?????? (took over the factory, stole the money).

Alas, given the many and varied dangers of reporting in Russia these days, we readers have to put up with ambiguity and just speculate on who spilled the beans, grabbed the factory and stole the dough.

But to Russian newspaper reporters and editors I say: Deep-six the English.

Michelle Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.