Journalism education in Russia adapts to the changing media landscape

Article  by  Dovilé DAVELUY  •  Published 25.05.2011  •  Updated 26.05.2011
Université d'État de Moscou
[NEWS] New media technologies are changing the Russian media landscape and imposing changes on Russian journalism education.
In a recent opinion piece published in the Moscow Times, Elena Vartanova, the media scholar and dean at the Lomonosov School of Journalism in Moscow State University, outlined the curriculum changes that would go into effect in September 2011. Established in 1947, the Lomonosov School of Journalism is the leading institution for journalism and mass communication education in Russia and the former Soviet Union countries. Since its foundation, it has formed more than 15,000 media specialists and currently provides education to more than 3000 students. 
According to Elena Vartanova, the envisioned curriculum changes are necessary to respond to the changing media landscape, where the Internet and new media technologies play a tremendous role. She explained that the school was developing courses on new media technologies that would equip their students with essential tools to successfully navigate the contemporary digital media environment. The new curriculum will also assign more time to practical training. A multimedia newsroom will be available for students to create digital content for various media platforms.
While incorporating more practical training, the new curriculum will retain the traditional social humanities education as its foundation, providing students with courses in Russian and foreign languages and literature, history, philosophy, law, economy and other disciplines. In Russia, Elena Vartanova explained, journalism has traditionally been perceived as a literary profession that assigns a strong social responsibility to journalists to inform and enlighten people. Contrary to what is going on in most Western countries where the media are simply considered as part of the economic system, in Russia the media continue to be regarded as the vehicle to promote education, cultural values and national identity.
A Ph.D. student at the Lomonosov School of Journalism, Diana Kulchitskaya, claimed that a wide spectrum of knowledge obtained throughout the years of studies enables future journalists to have a broader view of the issues they might encounter. At the same time, she suggested that more focus on practical training was definitely a welcome addition to the program. A fourth-year student, Anna Laletina, also agreed that the general education was necessary for journalists who should be “well-read”. Yet, Anna said she felt that spending 5 or 6 years in journalism schools, as is currently a norm in journalism faculties across the country, was simply too long. According to her, basic journalism skills can be learned in half that time.
Elena Vartanova stressed that journalism programs in Russia are attracting significant numbers of students, even though young people’s motivations for studying journalism vary. She suggested that some students come to journalism schools hoping to join the glamorous world of the celebrity culture. Others want to be a part of free information flow and exchange of ideas. Yet, others hope to engage in investigative journalism and use it as means of political activism. Presently, journalism jobs are generally not very well remunerated. Journalism schools are trying to address this problem by incorporating into their curricula public relations, advertising or business journalism programs that are believed to secure better-paying jobs. Lomonosov School’s graduates have a fairly good chance of getting a job, as the Russian media industry is concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but in provincial areas, the jobs are much scarcer.
Journalist graduates might not always be guaranteed high-paying jobs. However, according to Vartanova, the role of the new generation of media practitioners is more important than ever as they are liberating Russian journalism from the old traditions and creating a new public communication framework, shaped by the new media technologies and user-generated content.
In an interview at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Elena Vartanova expressed her belief that the Internet has a crucial role to play in destroying the old and inherently flawed Russian media system. As more Russians consume news online, the Internet is becoming increasingly more influential in setting the news agenda. The issues discussed on the Internet are often more controversial and problematic when compared to the “distilled content” on television. As a result, the Internet, Vartanova suggested, sets the “alternative news agenda” and provides different perspectives from the mainstream media, in such a way efficiently exposing the flaws of the traditional media system.
The Internet has also allowed for more interactive media content creation and consumption. Vartanova counts on the Internet’s potential to encourage people to freely express their opinions and become active members of the civil society to break the long tradition of what she calls the mentality of “passive criticism” regarding political and media culture. For example, on May 12th, 2011,, the most popular Russian search engine, listed 42,532,640 blogs in its ratings. Among the most popular blogs in Russia are ibigdan (news aggregator; 14478 readers), lifehacker (self-help, technologies etc.; 16040 readers), drugoi (photojournalistic online magazine; 61096 readers) and many others. Alexey Sidorenko reports that presently three quarters of Russian bloggers are based in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but regional forums are also growing. This is representative of the general trend, as most Internet consumption is concentrated in big cities. The plans of developing a nationwide fourth-generation telecoms network by 2014, however, should make the Internet more readily available in provincial areas as well.  
Social networking sites are clearly contributing to the civil activism in Russia. Both interviewed journalism students spoke of various situations in which the channels such as Twitter or YouTube have been used for political activism. The government has also jumped on the rising wave of the new media technologies: for example, president Medvedev, who had already been known as a blogger, started tweeting in June 2010.
Although the Internet and new media technologies are playing a crucial role in creating the new and more open media culture in Russia, Reporters without Borders lists Russia as a country under surveillance in terms of Internet censorship. The organization has documented an attempt by the regional Russian court to block YouTube and three other online libraries under the pretext that they contained “extremist” content last year. It has also denounced the fact that the blogs of at least three political bloggers pilgrim 67, rakhat aliev and sadalskij have been removed. In March 2011, Reporters without Borders warned of the generalized online surveillance, as the Russian government had announced a contest for the design of a software that would help them monitor all the online media outlets for “extremist” content.

Photo credit: with courtesy of Dr. Vartanova / Lomonosov School of Journalism.
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