On October 29th over 200 Russian bloggers convened in Moscow to attend the so-called “UnForum [ru]” — an informal blogging conference organized by RIA Novosti, with support of LiveJournal. While the fact that the state-owned news agency is attempting to actively engage new media is interesting in its own right, other aspects of the conference were even more intriguing.
In particular, the UnForum emphasized its regional credentials. Indeed, attendees came from a wide range of Russia's federal regions — from Samara to Vladivostok — with groups of bloggers “representing [ru]” each region at the conference (some participants came from outside of Russia — there were several bloggers [ru] from Transnistria). Bloggers listened to presentations from RIAN and Russia's Minister of Communications, as well as representatives of LiveJournal. They also attended a variety of seminars [ru] on blog monetization and personal branding led by celebrity bloggers like Ilya Varlamov and Anton Nosik.
The news agency overture to diversify away from Moscow and St. Petersburg markets, where Russian internet users are still largely concentrated, was backed up by a concrete offer. At the conference RIA Novosti announced the creation of a “Blogger Club,” which would give members access to agency news archives as well as photographs in exchange for active participation and exclusive content. What would RIAN get out of the arrangement? A blogger from the Altai region explains [ru] one theory:
Фактически сейчас РИА начинают активную экспансию в регионы, им нужны, как сейчас модно говорить “люди на местах”. С кого начать? [...] Очевидный ответ – блогеры. [...] Сегодня нам предложили фактически стать еще дополнительной сотней корреспондентов РИА в регионах.
In essence RIA is starting to actively expand into the regions, they need, as they say “people on the ground.” Where do they begin? [...] The obvious answer is bloggers. [...] Today they offered us to essentially become an additional hundred RIA regional correspondents.
Astrakhan blogger agaffonov, who did not attend, finds [ru] that the blogger benefits of participating in this club are unclear at best:
блогер это явление, при котором очень сильно играет роль его индивидуальности. Если блогер использует чужие материалы, пусть и уникальные, то он всё равно проиграет.
a blogger is a phenomenon which is strongly influenced by its individuality. If a blogger uses other people's materials, even if they are unique, he will still lose.
Some attendees went further in their criticism, like Krasnoyarsk blogger Ilya Labunsky, who wrote [ru]:
блогеров из регионов изо всех сил хотят от политики отвадить. Переформатировать, заставить писать на позитивные, или на худой конец нейтральные темы. [...] Откровенно говоря – провинциальных блогеров пытались купить [...]
they are trying to drive regional bloggers away from politics. To change their format, make them write about positive, or at least neutral topics. [...] Frankly speaking – someone was trying to buy the provincial bloggers [...]
RIA Novosti representative, Svetlana Mironiuk, responded to critics saying their suspicions are unfounded, and that the conference was an independent initiative:
никто нас не просил блогеров созывать, чтобы на них как-то воздействовать, делать их лояльными или ими манипулировать.
no one asked us to convene the bloggers, to influence them in some way, to make them loyal or manipulate them.
Incidentally, Labunsky caused a minor stir at the conference which he so criticized. During presentations the organizers employed a popular gimmick of using the stage background to display tweets with conference hash-tags When the Minister of Communications read a congratulatory greeting to conference participants from Prime Minister Medvedev during the opening panel, Labunksy petulantly tweeted [ru]:
#neforum идите нахуй со своим Медведевым!
#neforum fuck off with your Medvedev!
To the merriment of many, the ill-fated tweet was promptly displayed on the screen [ru].