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Press by
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Former Lenta.ru Editor Launches Medusa in Riga; TV Rain Evicted in Moscow
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Meduza.io, the new Internet site established in Riga by exiles from Lenta.ru, a formerly independent Russia news site, launched this week.

Meduza, which means both "Medusa" and "jellyfish" in Russian, is edited by Galina Timchenko, who was forced out of her post as editor-in-chief of Lenta.ru in March after an interview with Ukrainian ultranationalist Dmitro Jarosz, leader of Right Sector, and other controversial materials.

Editorial-Meeting.jpg

Editorial meeting at Meduza. Photo by The Calvert Journal.

Timchenko brought a dozen of her former Lenta.ru editors and special correspondents with her to Meduza, including Ilya Azar who has reported from Ukraine. Sultan Suleymanov, another former Lenta editor, even left his job as editor-in-chief of the popular Twitter aggregator TJournal which he had held since September 2013, to move to Medusa. Some 70 signed an appeal in solidarity with Timchenko at the time and resigned along with her.

"The disaster is not that we have nowhere to work. The disaster is that it looks like you have no more to read," they said.

Now their motto is "the news returns."

Today's issue has a major story on Alexey Navalny's criminal case involving the French firm Yves Roche; the arrest of performance artist Pyotr Pavlenksy for cutting off his earlobe to protest psychiatric abuse at the Serbsky Institute; on the bail system by the Russian police abuse monitoring group OVD-Info; a visit to St. Petersburg's Kresty (Crosses) prison; a draft law on private military companies and even an interview with the driver of the snowplow which killed Total's CEO Christophe de Margerie

The last story is taken from Channel 1, and reveals that the driver wasn't intoxicated but suffers from a heart condition; evidently Lenta.ru isn't going to scorn state news, but pick out some of the best that bears republishing.

In part, Meduza is serving as a media aggregator, or perhaps "curator" is the better word for stories in the better Russian press, such as Vedomosti, e.g. a piece on how the Kremlin is now abandoning the ultranationalists like Col. Igor Strelkov whom it had originally sponsored in the war against Ukraine.

But Meduza is also doing its own stories, such as an interview with a doctor arrested for prescribing pain-relievers.

Meduza has the usual menu of foreign stories as well, on Obama, ISIS and Ebola.

A section called Shapito -- Russian for "circus tent" -- something like Gawker or Buzzfeed -- has already drawn the ire of staid Izvestiya columnist Igor Karaulov for being frivolous, but then Karaulov also finds that "Medusa" could be decoded to mean "Media USA", i.e. "a media project in the interests of the US.

The Shapito section had a translation of the Vogue story providing fashion tips to Edward Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills, who joined him in Moscow; the discovery by Redditors of how cats love circles; and how a Japanese Internet user made a figure of a girl's head out of toilet paper

If anything, Meduza is critical of the US, with stories translated into Russia such as a Fox News report about how the Pentagon wound up accidentally delivering ammunition to ISIS and an interview with the new rector of the Higher Economic School Simeon Dyankov, the former Bulgarian prime minister, who says Russia should not be compared to the US.

A page which copies
the Vox index card system explains how readers can circumvent Russian government Internet blocks and surveillance using a variety of circumvention programs and encryption tools.

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Galina Timchenko. Photo by tkyrs.com


Given Russia's long and storied tradition of exiles printing newspapers abroad, the expectation might be that Meduza would focus on political dissidents and sectarian arguments. And while there is some of this, it appears the goal is more to look like a Western newspaper and actually work as a business attracting readership. Meduza has not disclosed its funders.

In fact, the word "exile" doesn't appear in its pages and the effect is  more to project a sense of "internationalization," escaping the confines not only of Russia state control but Russian provincialism.

Western readers of the old Lenta.ru in particular appreciated its brevity -- the news and even opinion stories were short, unlike Russian newspaper pieces, thousands of words long.

Meduza is even shorter. There's also an attempt to conquer the "theme and rheme" reversal issue" -- in the Russian language and often in news reporting, the commentary about a topic and the description of the setting of the story are placed first, and the punchline or what journalists might call the "nut graph" can appear much later, creating a feeling that a writer isn't "getting to the point."

For example, a story like one on the new draft law on defense companies has clear bullet points which tell the background of this law curiously copying hated America's experience. There was a failed attempt to create such private military companies by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia at the Pskov legislature -- home of the very contract paratroopers who were killed recently in Ukraine.

Meduza still seems squarely located in the Russian space, however, as it is not appealing so much to emigre communities as to the intelligentsia at home -- at least, at home on the Internet. The index card page has information about whether people will be forced to stop using Master Card and Visa, whether Russia will be shut off from the global Internet, and whether Ebola will come to Russia.

It will be interesting to see whether Meduza takes away readership from glossy domestic Russian publications like vozduh.afisha.ru, i.e. Mamut's other properties, aimed at hipster youth. Certainly vozduh.afisha.ru has a lot more tech talk and cultural news than Meduza appears to have.

Meduza has a Facebook page in Russian with already more than 25,000 likes and a VKontakte page with only 40 subscribers -- which tells us where the intelligentsia prefers to hang out.

It also has apps for smart phones, which is viewed as a way of getting around censorship, because it is obtained from Apple or Android app stores -- companies which presumably would stand up to pressure from Russian authorities.

But as TechCrunch points out, the Russian government's demand to companies to with Russian customers to place servers on Russian soil applies to apps as well.

In an interview with Calvert Journal, Ivan Kolpakov, co-founder, described Meduza's vision:

“We can’t and don’t want to create the new Lenta. Lenta needed 15 years and a lot of resources to become Russia’s main newspaper,” Kolpakov told The Calvert Journal. “Meduza is a pirate ship, a small, mobile media organisation. Media which tries to produce quality journalism — both news and reporting journalism.”


Perhaps Lenta got out just in time. The Russian government has relentlessly tightened the screws on independent media. Today TV Rain, the independent cable TV and web site that lost cable operators due to a controversial show on World War II, was already informed earlier this year that its lease would not be renewed.

Now TV Rain has received word that it was leave the Red October business center by next year, a fashionable mall, by 15 November, the site reports. The reason cited is the need for "capital repairs."

TV Rain plans to hold a "garage sale" of its property, and is not certain where it is headed next.

Slon.ru and Bolshoi Gorod, two other independent publications formerly renting at Red October, have recently left the building.

Lenta.ru is owned by Afish Rambler-SUP, headed by Alexander Mamut, who also owns the Red October building and the book chain Waterstone's.