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Analysis & Opinion
28.03.11 Liberal On Paper
By Tom Balmforth

A liberal bastion for some Russians during the perestroika years of the Soviet Union, the “Moskovskie Novosti” (MN) newspaper brand was reborn on Monday as it published its first Russian language print issue in three years, under the auspices of state-owned RIA Novosti. At a time when newspapers across the world are folding, the MN weekly that petered out in the 2000s and was cut altogether in 2008 has been launched again as a daily.

Speaking of the niche that MN will occupy in the print press, MN chief editor Vladimir Gurevich, who was also on the acclaimed MN team of the eighties, said that titan dailies Kommersant, Izvestia, Vedomosti and Nezavisimaya Gazeta are his “main competitors” along with “a few others,” but argued that there is a clear niche for MN’s latest incarnation.

Kommersant, he said, was created for the middle and entrepreneurial classes in the nineties, while Vedomosti panders toward investors. “We try to pay attention to what there is of a civil society, of which there have recently appeared some flashes: the various social movements, some of which are a bit wild, some barbarian, some simply destructive,” he said, then specifying “from the ‘blue buckets’ [movement] to the volunteers who helped put out the fires [in August 2010].”

“I do not place myself in the opposition, but I try to oppose everything vile,” said editor Gurevich, setting himself apart from the stances taken by Novaya Gazeta and magazine New Times, but also from the mainstream. “The worst threat to our society and country is the apathy of the best part of the population and the total indifference of the elites,” said Gurevich in comments perhaps reminiscent of the old MN’s “idealist liberalism,” as recalled by a Russia Profile blog on Friday.

Gurevich dismissed objections from critics who question the merit of a paper with a liberal legacy drawing state funding. “We came here with the “Vremya” publishing house, we have our own sources of financing. RIA is our partner, it has its own sources, state ones to be precise. But we agreed that RIA Novosti will help us with infrastructure, modern technologies, and distribution, which in my opinion it does extremely professionally. We have to provide the content of the newspaper and will be fully responsible for it. No one is going to interfere with it.”

MN journalists from its heyday are still unsure whether MN’s glory days can replicate the cult following of the paper during the death throes of the Soviet Union. “It truly is a legendary brand, but that legend solidified during the perestroika years,” Olga Timofeyevna, the culture editor at Novaya Gazeta, who worked under Yakovlev, told Russia Profile, which is owned by RIA Novosti. “The current times are completely different. Also, the very attitude toward newspapers has changed. I imagine the paper version of the Moskovskie Novosti will be interesting, but not as popular as it used to be.”

Moskovskie Novosti, which reappears at a time when papers are disappearing due to the ascendency of the Internet, is also available on the iPad, on its own Web site, and on social networking sites Twitter, Facebook and “Vkontakte.” RIA Novosti’s experience in these fields was a major factor in cooperation with the state-owned news agency, said Gurevich. He also said that newspapers are not a “source of information,” but rather “should present its readership with an interpretation of the news, try to process it and offer its opinion.” Newspapers are the “added value,” he said, which will help MN compete with other more established dailies.

Timofeyevna questioned how much the new MN would be able to live up to the legacy of analysis established by its predecessor. “Moskovskie Novosti used to be a weekly and focused on analysis. Today it is a daily,” said Timofeyevna.

“Of course, it is difficult to speculate on its future success, but a lot of MN’s success was linked to Yegor Yakovlev,” said Timofeyevna. “Editors like him – you get them pretty rarely. I wish them success. But if they are successful, it will be a different type of success.”
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