This newspaper had to cease publication in Russia. But it’s not over to cover the war
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Reporting the news is no small feat for the staff of Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s only independent media outlets.
The investigative journal was forced to suspend publication in Russia in March due to the country’s media censorship laws and a crackdown on dissent against the war in Ukraine.
Today, its journalists are again covering the war and other matters of national interest through a new publication, Novaya Gazeta Europe. But so far he has no office, no website and very few ways to reach readers in his home country.
“We [were] the last major independent media in Russia until the end of March, and now we have to recreate everything from scratch in this new situation,” said Kirill Martynov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta Europe. As it happens guest host Dave Seglins, from his current base of operations in Latvia.
“We understand that information about this war is crucial for us and for society as well. If Russian society has a future at the moment, it must understand what happened.”
Why the newspaper stopped publishing in Russia
The newspaper suspended publication in Russian shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill providing for a prison term of up to 15 years for disseminating information contrary to the Russian government’s position on the war in Ukraine.
The newspaper promised to resume operations after the end of the war in Ukraine – which Russia calls a “special military operation” -.
Novaya Gazeta was not alone. Many foreign media, including Radio-Canada, suspended their activities in the country after the adoption of the law.
Novaya Gazeta Europe operates as a separate entity, independent from the Moscow editorial office, Martynov explains.
He currently runs the show from Riga, Latvia. The new publication does not yet have an official office.
Instead, Martynov is learning from the pandemic and virtually coordinating with reporters in Russia, as well as others in the United States and across Europe.
“Anyone can solve this problem without a centralized office or newsroom,” he said.
Working with “undercover agents”
Working with journalists inside Russia is particularly difficult, he said.
“They have to publish their articles anonymously, and they have to have no legal connection with the newsroom, with the bureau. And so we have to decide how to pay them in [a] way that the Russian authorities cannot control,” he said.
“Journalists will work in Russia during these months – even years – as a kind of undercover agents.”
Talking to sources inside Russia is also increasingly dangerous and complex. Often, the newspaper must protect the identity of its sources, while the state cracks down on dissidents of all kinds, including activists and teachers.
But people still want to express themselves, Martynov said – even ordinary Russians. The journal now actively connects with Russians desperate for information about loved ones aboard the Moskvaa Russian warship that sank last week in the Black Sea.
Ukraine says its soldiers hit the ship with missiles, but Russia says the Moskva sank while under tow after an unexplained fire. The Russian government has been tight-lipped about the fate of those on board, and state media toe the line.
“To me [as a] Russian citizen, it is still incredible that the Russian authorities cannot provide any information about the situation around this warship,” Martynov said.
“I don’t know if anything like this has ever happened, you know, in the history of mankind when you lost the flagship of your fleet, and after that you just say, ‘We don’t know. what happened. Don’t ask us.'”
So far, Novaya Gazeta Europe is reporting without a physical newspaper, or even a website.
Martynov says journalists use the few social media channels where Russians still have access to uncensored information, namely YouTube and the messaging app Telegram.
It plans to launch a website this week, he said, but there’s no guarantee that Russia won’t simply block access to it.
This is where journalists need to start getting creative, says Martynov.
Staff spoke of using Cold War techniques to disseminate information, such as shortwave radio. They are also looking for ways to make themselves available through digital piracy.
And they considered teaching their readers the digital literacy skills they need to avoid Russian censors, such as installing a VPN on their computers to make it look like they’re logging in from another country.
He thinks it’s worth it and says there are a lot of Russians who agree.
“I’m pretty sure that in Russia there are millions and maybe tens of millions of people who don’t support Putin and don’t support this war. And they’re really struggling to get information,” Martynov said. .
Prior to Novaya Gazeta’s closure, he says his website received around three million visitors a day, as well as more on his social media channels.
“So you can imagine it’s a huge public interest [for an] independent source of information.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview conducted by Kevin Robertson.