U.S. business journalism’s issues are nothing compared to those in Russia
For the past week, Talking Biz News has been in Moscow to give lectures and seminars on business journalism at Moscow State University, which has the largest journalism program in the Russian Federation and recently started an undergraduate business journalism program.
I’ve had conversations with current business journalists and those that want to enter the profession. Here are some observations:
1. Many students want to be business journalists in Russia, but they are also afraid because it is common for journalists in this country to be beaten up and even killed when they write something that is killed. (Paul Klebnikov, the editor of Forbes Russia, was killed in 2004, for example.) I was asked several times why American business journalists were not physically abused.
2. There is also retribution. A reporter for an international wire service was recently banned from covering prime minister Vladimir Putin because she asked him during a news conference about the falling value of the ruble, the Russian currency. The reporters at the news conference had been instructed not to ask Putin about the ruble, but this reporter did so anyway. I told the journalists that I talked to that this is also a common strategy in the United States.
3. Many of the business journalists working for international media in Russia believe that the local businessmen are more likely to give scoops and information to the two local business newspapers — Vedomosti and Kommersant — than they are to their media. While there was a hint of sour grapes in the comment, the belief of other journalists was that the Russian businessmen often don’t care to talk to the international business media.
4. Accounting rules in Russia are different than in the United States, but the basics remain the same. However, Russian companies report EBITDA, which is the common earnings number that journalists write about here.
5. Many of the business journalism students want to leave Russia and work for American business media organizations.
Many thanks to Andrei Virkovsky of Moscow State, who runs the business journalism program, for inviting me.