The Moscow Times is changing to a weekly magazine-style format, and that’s leading to some concern about the fate of Russia’s other independent media publications.
The new-format Moscow Times will come out weekly. Photograph: Andrei Boyakov
The article is first published at The Guardian's The New East network.
Russia’s only independent English-language newspaper, The Moscow Times, has stopped publishing daily issues in favor of a new weekly format.
The new owner says the move will allow him to save the loss-making publication, but some correspondents fear it spells the end of an important independent news source and training ground for correspondents.
Founded by Dutch publisher Derk Sauer in 1992 and distributed in cafes, hotels and airplanes, The Moscow Times often covered Russian news and issues in more depth than Western publications. Former correspondents have gone on to success at other publications, including Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Ellen Barry.
As the Russian economy has slowed down and expats have begun to leave the country, other English-language publications such as the entertainment newspaper The Element have shut down.
In addition to economic difficulties, independent media also face political problems. Amid rising tensions with the west, Russian officials regularly accuse foreign media of waging an information war against Moscow.
In October 2014 Vladimir Putin signed a law barring foreign investors from owning more than a 20 percent stake in Russian media outlets. Following this legislation, the Finnish publishing group Sanoma sold The Moscow Times to Demyan Kudryavtsev, who previously directed the publishing house of the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant and was a business partner of the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky.
Kudryavtsev admits that he bought The Moscow Times as part of a package that included the important Russian business daily Vedomosti, as well as the more profitable Men’s Health and National Geographic. But he chose to try to revamp the newspaper rather than shut it down, he said.
“I do it from my own pocket, and all I’m hearing is that I’m killing The Moscow Times,” he said. “The Moscow Times was already dead as a business, for eight years. If the audience needs it, it needs to be proved economically, that’s what we call the free market.”
But some former and current Moscow Times correspondents called it the end of an era.
“The newspaper is basically a feature pile, city guide kind of thing,” said one reporter who declined to be quoted by name. “It has some newsy kinds of things but no aspirations to anything particularly serious, as was shown in new edition. It’s not that it’s badly written, it’s just the format.”
The first weekly issue that came out on Nov. 5 includes several reports on the troubled Russian airline industry following the plane crash in Egypt this weekend. But its new magazine-style cover also features a piece on a local women’s football team and a story with the teaser, “New Ways to Get Drunk in Moscow.”
Although no mass layoffs have ensued, the newspaper has fired a photographer as part of what Kudryavtsev said was a restructuring of the photo department, and at least five other employees have left since he became owner. But Kudryavtsev has hired a respected Russian publisher, as well as a well-known editor, who will determine the content, he said.
“If they continue to populate the website with relevant news stories each day (and this was a plan), then The Moscow Times will remain a meaningful source of news,” said former editor Nabi Abdullaev, who left the newspaper last month over personal disagreements with Kudryavtsev.
The article is first published at The Guardian's The New East network. Alec Luhn is the writer of The Guardian.