As elsewhere in the world, the global financial crisis has had a substantial impact on mass media in Russia. According to research from the Video International Analytical Center, a Russian research company, the volume of advertising in major print media decreased by 53% between January, 2008 and January, 2009. Major newspapers have become thinner, and fewer copies are being sold.
Meanwhile, the local media landscape in Russia remains strong, and, in some regions, local newspapers have increased subscribers in the waning economy. To discuss the phenomenon, IJNet Russian Editor Alexander Yakhontov recently spoke to Sergei Andreyev, the manager of the School for Public Policy in Altay, Russia.
AY: Why do people with low income continue buying their local newspapers?
SA: While the cost of the Russian Post is constantly increasing, people have to choose. And they have chosen to subscribe to the local press.
Foremost, it is cheaper than federal news. Secondly, the news of what happens in these regions, where people live, is getting more and more important to readers, even more important than in regional centers. And information about events in Moscow and abroad is brought free to every home via TV.
Municipal life is the number one priority in rural districts. The financial crisis has compounded the need for local news, because people are seeking vital information about prices, the job market, and how effective local authorities are in ensuring an adequate supply of water and electricity to their villages, etc.
By the way, traditionally the number of rural subscribers during winter is higher, because there is less to do at home and the nights are longer, so people have more time to read.
AY: So growing interest in municipal information is the reason the local press is surviving the crisis?
SA: The growing value of municipal information to readers certainly is a factor, but it is due to local authorities that most municipal newspapers still exist. The government is interested in subscribing people to local newspapers. Very often, local administrations are the real owners of the regional print press, just as when the Communist party owned all media.
As a rule, a lot of space in the newspaper is allocated for reporting on the activities of the administration and its leader. In fact, teachers, doctors and heads of local organizations and local businesses are required to subscribe to local newspapers. Businessmen are often "persuaded" to subscribe the elderly to their "native" newspaper; this is considered to be an act of patriotism.
There is one more important item to mention: during election campaigns, newspapers are supported because they are primary promotion tools for the ruling party and its candidates. This was seen in many Russian regions this year.
AY: So authorities won't let local newspapers die?
SA: We can be confident the local press in Russia will survive, no matter the depth of the financial crisis. Unfortunately, freedom of expression is the price paid for survival.
To learn more about Andreyev, go to http://sergey-shpp.livejournal.com/.