Some might call it a school for scandal but a muckraking Russian newspaper publisher is calling it critical to the future of journalism in his country. Aram Gabrelyanov has created his own journalism training program – aimed and producing a new breed of reporters. Laura Lynch reports from Moscow.
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KATY CLARK: You wouldn’t confuse a popular newspaper in Russia with the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or even USA Today. This paper is a tabloid and proud of it. In fact its creator is so pleased that he’s opened a school to teach aspiring journalists how to dish the tabloid dirt. The World’s Laura Lynch introduces us to the Czar of the Russian tabloid in this report from Moscow.
LAURA LYNCH: Hundreds of people stop at Nina Shishova’s kiosk every day on their way to the subway. Most of them are looking for one thing: a cheeky gossipy tabloid newspaper called Life.
NINA SHISHOVA: [RUSSIAN]
LAURA: Its really popular Nina tells me. Everyone wants to know how the rich and famous live. Especially since our lives are so ordinary. It’s modeled after a hugely popular British tabloid called The Sun, complete with screaming headlines, sensational stories, and of course a photo of a topless woman on page 3. Life was brought to life by Aram Gabrelyanov, a brash man with a broken nose and a pugnacious attitude.
ARAM GABRELYANOV: [RUSSIAN]
TRANSLATOR: We have two million one hundred thousand readers for Life newspaper and two hundred thousand readers for another smaller newspaper every day. Our newspaper has the largest print run in the country.
LAURA: But apparently having a successful tabloid magazine and web site isn’t enough. Gabrelyanov has just opened his own journalism school. On this night the students are out of the classroom on a field trip. They’re supposed to be learning the art of asking questions at a news conference. But this news conference is with an endless supply of champagne and canapés, seems to be more of a publicity stunt than a serious journalistic endeavor. Still, student Ilya Inukin is thrilled to be here, even if he has trouble expressing it in English.
ILYA INUKIN: Journalism is my hobby, and I have a [INDISCERNIBLE]. Big pleasure.
WOMAN: Big pleasure.
ILYA: I felt big pleasure when I make some reference.
LAURA: The students pay the equivalent of $830 for the six-month part-time course. Vladimir Ladinsky says he’s learned one big lesson so far.
VLADIMIR LADINSKY: [RUSSIAN]
LAURA: The most important thing Vladimir says the main aim is to inject emotion into every story. That’s music to the ears of their mentor, for Gabrelyanov emotion is what’s missing from what he sees as the dull broadsheets that fill newsstands in Russia. There are two types of journalism he says: interesting and uninteresting.
TRANSLATOR: We opened our own school of journalism because nobody in Russia teaches tabloid journalism. Here they think that tabloid journalism is a forbidden topic. It is considered ugly and not good. But of course everybody reads it, but they act like they don’t read it. I want to teach people tabloid journalism.
LAURA: Gabrelyanov has earned a grudging respect from other journalists here for the newspaper’s ability to break news, especially sensational crime stories. He says he doesn’t pay for police information, though his company does hand over generous gifts at the annual National Police Day celebrations. But there are critics. Those who say tabloids, called yellow newspapers here, are failing to dig into Russia’s real scandals. Andrei Lipsky is the political editor of Novaya Gazeta. The newspaper is known for it’s critical investigative coverage of Russian politics. Four of its reporters have been murdered in less than a decade. Lipsky has little respect for so-called yellow journalists who aren’t willing to take risks to uncover important stories.
ANDREI LIPSKY: It’s difficult business. To be a real journalist we have all kinds of yellow newspapers, probably 90 percent of journalists are out of danger, because they are not interested in sharp problems.
LAURA: Gabrelyanov makes no apologies for that nor for his refusal to run any stories critical of President Medvedev or Prime Minister Putin. Again he compares his newspaper to its British cousin saying tabloids are patriotic. It’s that attitude that sparks concerns that Gabrelyanov is creating a new generation of second-rate journalists. But he’s unrepentant.
INTERPRETER: What can I say? The amount of copies we sell speak for themselves. When people start to insult me I tell them a story about a boy who fell in love with a girl. But their parents wouldn’t let them get married. But they loved each other, had sex, then the boy was killed and the girl poisoned herself. They ask me, where did that story come from? And I say, it’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a crime story. But Shakespeare wrote it so brilliantly that everyone admires it. But it is still a crime story.
LAURA: Student Vladimir Ladinsky is hoping Gabrelyanov will hire him when he’s finished training in February. As for the tabloid’s lack of critical political coverage, Ladinsky suggests that may well change over time.
LAURA: In Soviet times he says I only used to read the last page of the newspaper because that was the sports news and that was the only thing worth reading because we didn’t have any press freedom. In comparison to then we have plenty of freedom now in our press and our lives. So we’re moving forward step by step. Life newspaper isn’t creeping any closer to the center of power in Russia. Even though it’s more than sympathetic to the Kremlin, it still hasn’t won a prize spot in the press pool that covers the President. Gabrelyanov says Kremlin officials told him he would have to get rid of his page three girl, something he refuses to do. For The World, I’m Laura Lynch, in Moscow.
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