Russian-language news platform for independent media

An elderly Georgian woman told a journalist that while she could hardly ever afford meat, she continued to buy Whiskas for her cat. This was the direct occasion for the first article published on the brand-new platform Russian-Language News Exchange. Because the platform’s editors wondered about the actual situation regarding pensions in the region. The results were read by people in seven Russian-language countries.

News coverage in many former republics of the Soviet Union are either controlled by the state or oligarch, which leads to disbalanced news coverage. Most news coverage in the former republics of the Soviet Union is controlled by the state. Organisations that hope to survive in this media landscape are dependent on major funders, who strive to have a finger in every pie. Independent and non-partisan media remain rare in these countries. In addition, collaborations are few and far between – even though they all speak the same language: Russian.

Local information in Russian for millions of readers

The Russian-Language News Exchange is bringing a change to this. Established in late 2015 by Free Press Unlimited, this platform started to gain momentum over the course of 2016. Its objective: to provide large sections of the region’s population with local information in their mother tongue. Its audience may be united by a common language, Russian, but they actually live across a range of countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia itself. They are offered fact-based and reliable news coverage through a number of online and offline channels. And there has proven to be a real demand for this information: together, the collaborating media organisations reach millions of readers.

Maryia Sadouskaya-Komlach works as the Programme Coordinator of the Russian-Language News Exchange. She emphasises that the platform doesn’t work to undermine the local state-owned media. “We want to strengthen independent media in the region. The platform brings together independent and professional media partners – some of whom Free Press Unlimited has known for many years. Here, journalists can exchange knowledge, work together and trust each other.” They report on political developments, the economy and international affairs, but there is also room for human interest stories, culture and sports.

Journalists working in partnership

In 2016, the collaborating journalists exchanged over 200 articles via the platform, as well as producing 25 new ones. The story about the Georgian pensioner and her peers in the region was the first joint production of the Exchange. Eleven journalists and editors worked together for weeks on the report. They produced a variety of articles, videos and infographics, which were ultimately published in Russian on six different media outlets catering to audiences in seven countries.

Coordinating all these contributions can be quite a challenge, says one of the editors who works at the central newsroom: “Acting as a liaison between all these journalists from different countries, with their different areas of expertise and working conditions – and all from our virtual newsroom – was no simple matter. But together, the partners involved have produced a wonderful result. This is also borne out by the positive reactions from our audience – particularly via social media.”

The pension report was translated into Armenian, Georgian and English. In Moldova, the investigative reports actually led to an inquiry into pension reforms. People are given the opportunity to read about life in neighboring countries, which leads to greater understanding. Thanks to the Russian-Language News Exchange, people are united by more than just a common language.

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