The Moscow Post online newspaper is well-known for its investigative reporting which often attracts a large audience. It has become recently known that its Public Council is planning to establish the Integrity journalism award. Details are published below.
Alexei Kozlov, founder and editor-in-chief of The Moscow Post socio-political publication, told wek.ru about the genre of investigative journalism, foreign agents and the first Public Council under the editorial board.
Q: “Allow me a digression: do you share the opinion that print press has finally given place to visual communications?”
A: “When television emerged, many said that theatre would die. However, people still go to the theatre. Moreover, look at the ongoing epic battles for the theatres. The print press will keep its niche though it might have fewer readers. However, some genres are typical for print media and others for online publications.”
Q: “Can you, please, clarify this idea?”
A: “For example, a long report will be of interest to readers of the print press because people need to get the gist of the information quickly, briefly and clearly in the age of electronic media.”
Q: “Are longreads in demand?”
A: “Not on the Internet. People do not have time to read anything long. Nevertheless, The Moscow Post has big investigative stories on its website but they mostly present facts. Previously, when an official stole a kindergarten building from people and set up a mansion for himself there, they would make a long and tedious story of it: I am sorry for being cynical. It is enough now just to describe what happened. Any normal person will draw appropriate conclusions.”
Q: “Is it true that The Moscow Post is one of the few media outlets in Russia that does professional investigative journalism?”
A: “Indeed, there are few truly investigative media outlets left in Russia. One can count them on the fingers of one hand. Unfortunately, many people think for some reason that it is impossible to do investigative reporting in the current situation. This is not true. If all the norms of the law are observed, investigations are possible and necessary. It is necessary for the authorities as they read our stories and make decisions based on the results of our investigations. Then we see arrests or some interesting court cases on TV.
Let's also define what investigative journalism is. If someone finds a palace belonging to someone, or sees a governor or a minister wearing a $5 million watch, that is not an investigation.
Such information is available on websites that do not even belong to the media. It is a body of damaging information on the Internet billed as investigations. Their “journalists” see on TV that an official has an expensive watch and publish this information. And that is all. They call it a journalistic investigation.
Furthermore, they cause damage to the real professional media. The reader is highly unlikely to check if this or that site has a media registration certificate and equally treats all outlets. As a result, it shapes the public opinion that the media is corrupt.
Investigative journalism is what we do. To put it simply, funds were allocated from the state budget (point A) for something (point B). They went through several organizations and in the end did not reach point B. We start figuring out what happened and where it went.
Q: “There is no doubt that the genre of investigative journalism is in demand. The same is true of detective stories. Can this analogy be made?”
A: “Yes, because the process is very similar to that of an investigator’s work. The only difference is that an investigator puts the results of his probe on the prosecutor's table whereas we present them to the reader. We get some feedback from judges, investigators, and employees of the Presidential Administration who are in our audience. Therefore, there is a reaction, and it comes very fast. Our texts are not high-profile. I mean we do not shout from the rooftops “We have found a thief, catch him!” Anyway, we do have a certain feedback and a corresponding reaction from the authorities. For example, high-profile arrests followed by trials.
A: “Can you give some examples?”
Q: “Last year, our journalists carried out an investigation into how one of the longest-serving governors (I won't name him), along with the son of the head of a state corporation and another oligarch, had withdrawn about $131 million from the region into offshore accounts. Within a week, this veteran politician resigned.
There is another example from another region. Our reader complained that schools in her region were being closed all over because of debts. The debts appeared through the scheming of a local district head who used companies under his control.
As we found out later, the governor received a phone call from the Kremlin after the article was published. He was told to “clean up the mess” and restore order. He understood in his own way, and put pressure on the author of the complaint. Our journalists found out about it, and our next story described not only this case, but the situation with education in the region as a whole. Two days later, the governor resigned “of his own accord.”
So, there is a reaction from the authorities to the investigations.
About 100 criminal cases have been initiated based on the results of our publications in 14 years.”
A: “There is a lot of talk around the so-called foreign agent media now. What do you think about it?”
Q: “The Foreign Agent Law is a double-edged sword. It is necessary to understand the system that enables these decisions. Currently, attempts are being made to isolate Russia from the outside world. The country feels some kind of external threat. There are those who can make things worse from within, so Russia passed laws to avoid this situation.
The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that the laws were a response to the sanctions imposed on our media.
However, there are questions regarding the legal aspect. Our media law clearly states that a foreign citizen may not own more than 20% of a Russian publication. Why, then, was this law passed? I will tell you more. Our legislation sets the tax rate at 40 percent for foreign citizens. If this rule is applied to foreign agents, I firmly believe that their number will instantly decrease.”
A: “Is it possible to do honest investigative journalism without being biased?”
Q: “Biased for whom? I always say that we are the most biased media in relation to our readers. That is why our newspaper reacts to every letter from readers.”
After all, the most independent media exists in the society. Therefore, any publication is biased in one way or another. The same is true for any journalist because he or she is a human being who faces reality every day and obviously holds certain views. So, a journalist is biased from the very beginning.”
A: “The Moscow Post is the only media outlet which has a Public Council, a body under the editor-in-chief. What functions does it perform? Do you share responsibility with the people on it?”
Q: “In a manner of speaking, it is ‘Council,’ as it’s used for consultations with each other. Its members help assess the actions of the editorial board, both positively and critically. I would like to invite the editors-in-chief of regional publications to join the Council. They are really do hard work.”
A: “As I understand, you have a correspondents network. The Moscow Post has a section called ‘Regions’ featuring stories from various Russian cities.
Q: “Nearly every region has its own version of the Moscow Post. The Sankt-Peterburg Post operates as an independent media outlet. Its journalists recently looked into the sale by a respectable state corporation of a historical building in the centre of St. Petersburg for 10,000 roubles ($137.75.) I hope that the authorities are checking this information.”
A: “As far as I know, your Public Council is going to launch the Integrity award.”
Q: “Yes, we want to launch an award for the most honest and unbiased investigative journalism soon. I hope the regional media will take part in it.”