From Nov. 26-Dec. 23 I will be in Russia with a joint program through the International Center for Journalists and the Moscow Union of Journalists. In addition to my own reporting, I will be working with Russian wire service Itar-Tass.
Russia week one: The good, the bad and the breakfast buffet
This is not my first time in Russia, but it is a trip of other firsts. This is my first working trip here, the first time I have traveled with other Americans and my first stay in a Russian hotel (more on that later.) So far, this has meant a very new impression of a country that I have previously experienced only through small-town life in the Urals.
The biggest culture shock was being in the capital–a huge, modern city so different from the rest of the country. But Moscow, in all its metropolitan glory, is still Russia. So despite the $6 Starbucks coffees and massive luxury shopping centers, there are still quirks. I believe our hotel spared no expense when they flew in a top set-designer from 1970s-era sitcom television to furnish the rooms. Our beds, though, are strictly Russian and I am forever thankful for my short stature as Soviet-style beds are consistently one or two feet shorter than the average Russian man.
Our hosts have also afforded us the luxury of access to the hotel’s daily breakfast buffet. The food is ok, but the real draw is the atmosphere. A large banquet hall, outfitted with cloth-covered tables and piped-in music (though, inexplicably, this is almost always Michael Buble’s Christmas album.) It is like going to prom for breakfast every morning!
But back to why we are really here. What does it mean to be a journalist in Russia? One week in and I am still pretty far from an answer. I think it is safe to say that being a journalist here can mean many things. Most of us in the group are working with news organizations that are at least partially subsidized by the government. This does not mean that they don’t report real news, but it does limit, in varying degrees of severity, what goes to print. Internal censorship is the phrase I have heard most often. And for independent journalists, neutrality is rare. Journalism-as-activism is one of few alternatives to state news. It’s a tough market for objectivity.
I am grateful for the opportunity to get this inside look. At the end of the day, the experience is challenging all of us to think about what we do and how, and why, we do it.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 at 7:21 am. It is filed under Blog and tagged with ICFJ, Itar-Tass, journalism, Moscow, Russia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.