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Why Do Russia's Newsmen Keep Quitting?

When the socio-political website OpenSpace was shut down in February [GV], some claimed that it was a move against its editor-in-chief Maksim Kovalsky. This made a certain amount of sense, since before helming OpenSpace, Kovalsky ran the journal Kommersant Vlast’ (Power), a position he was canned from for publishing a photograph of a presidential election ballot marked with the words “Putin, go f*ck yourself“. (Kommersant's General Director Demian Kudryavtsev left the company in protest [ru] shortly after this incident.) Now, less than a month later, there are new dismissals.

Two editors-in-chief lost their positions on March 4, 2013: Mikhail Kotov left one of Russia's biggest online newspapers, Gazeta.ru [ru], while Alexey Vorobiev is no longer the head of the Kommersant FM [ru], a Kommersant affiliated radio station with a heavy online presence. It's hard to overlook the similarities, not the least of which is the fact that both editors were dismissed on the same day by a man named Dmitry Sergeev. Rather implausibly, it was two completely unrelated Dmitry Sergeevs who did the dismissing.

Former Gazeta.ru editor-in-chief Mikhail Kotov deep in thought. Youtube screenshot, March 4. 2013.

Former Gazeta.ru editor-in-chief Mikhail Kotov deep in thought. YouTube screenshot, March 4. 2013.

Yes, there are two high level media executives named Dmitry Sergeev in Russia, and they chose the same day to shake up their staff, prompting a Twitter user to quip [ru] ”Russian media have established a special position – dmitry sergeev.”  One of these Dmitry Sergeevs, a top official at SUP (parent company of both Gazeta.ru and LiveJournal) explained his side of the story in a Facebook post, citing [ru] a company planning session during which Kotov was essentially sidelined:

Сегодня утром на планерке я был представлен в должности исполнительного директора Газеты.ру с прямым подчинением всех отделов. Ранее все отделы подчинялись главному редактору и он отвечал за все, что происходило на Газете. Теперь по новой структуре редакция, разработка, маркетинг и коммерция подчиняются непосредственно мне. С категорическим несогласием выступил Михаил Котов, заявив, что он не может далее продолжать работать в подобных условиях и просит об увольнении по собственному желанию.

This morning at the planning session I was appointed the executive director of Gazeta.ru with direct oversight of all departments. Earlier all departments were subordinate to the editor-in-chief and he was responsible for everything that happened in Gazeta. Now, according to the new chain of command, the editorial, marketing, and commercial departments are directly subordinate to to me. Mikhail Kotov disagreed categorically, saying that he can't continue working under these conditions and asked to resign.

Sergeev later elaborated, noting that the productivity of the publication was lagging, publishing only “100 news stories per day.” He also mentioned that he had no desire to change the editorial direction of the newspaper. However, according to Anton Nosik [ru] (formerly a SUP employee), faced with such an ultimatum Kotov had no choice but to quit.

While Gazeta.ru is not particularly oppositionary in spirit, Kotov's relative independence (he has been in charge for more than a decade) was apparently viewed as a threat by the owners. Why? Journalist Vladimir Shusharin took a guess [ru]:

Неоднократно писал и говорил, что нынешняя качественная журналистика, особенно экономическая, куда остреее, глубже, умнее  и, в конечном счете, оппозиционнее жалких и бездарных выступлений тех, кто присвоил себе имя демократической оппозииции

I've repeatedly written and said that these days quality journalism, especially economic journalism, is sharper, deeper, smarter, and in the end, more oppositionary than the pathetic and mediocre performance of those who have assumed the mantle of democratic opposition

The other Dmitry Sergeev, president of the Kommersant Publishing House, stayed away from social media, explaining [ru] to newspapers that Alexey Vorobiev resigned for “personal reasons.” He also made a point of mentioning that the editorial line of Kommersant FM will remain unchanged. Even if true, some may view Vorobiev leaving as the final nail in the coffin of old, rebellious radio station. After all, he was the deputy editor to the previous editor-in-chief, Denis Solopov, who left last summer amid claims that Kommersant owner Alisher Usmanov disliked the publication's criticism of the government [ru].

For those still not sure of the general import of these resignations, the reaction of Boris Yakemenko, old-guard Putinist and brother to the founder of NASHI, should be most telling [ru]:

Продолжается процесс оздоровления российских средств массовой информации. [...] Стоит напомнить, что и «Коммерсант» и «Газета ру» были основаны Березовским. Его традиции в данных изданиях до сей поры остаются почти неповрежденными и характеризуются постоянным хихиканьем, антироссийской позицией и ангажированностью.

The process of healing of Russian mass media is continuing. [...] It's worth noting that Kommersant and Gazeta.ru were founded by [Putin's arch nemesis Boris] Berezovsky. His traditions in these publications remain largely intact, and are characterized by constant snickering, anti-Russian editorial positions, and bias.

Perhaps editors like Kovalsky, Kotov and Vorobiev no longer feel welcome in the brave new media market.

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