Lessons Learned from Journalists in Russia Can Apply at Home

By Brad Terrace

Oxford- Last Friday, February 10th, students at Miami University’s campus in Oxford, Ohio had a unique opportunity to Skype with two journalists living in Russia. The two journalists, Matthew Bodner and Alexey Kovalev, talked with the students for over an hour about their interests and current writings and even fielded questions from the audience. The event, which was coordinated by the Havighurst Center at Miami was quite successful and was even able to persist through technical difficulties multiple times.

Bodner, a 2013 graduate of Miami, discussed his research and writings about the Admiral Kuznetsov, the only active aircraft carrier in use by the Russian Navy. The Kuznetsov, pictured above, is part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to create prestige both at home and abroad by sending the Kuznetsov to help fight in the war against ISIS.  Bodner, who has covered the ship extensively and has his own replica model, said that the mission was “basically a PR stunt by the Russians” and that the mission was not militarily successful.  Because of the heavily censored media in Russia, however, it was perceived as successful. Although the ship blew black smoke throughout the English Channel and caused more laughs than fear, the state-controlled media in Russia paraded their military success at home.

This story by Bodner opened an interesting dialogue that included Kovalev about the media in Russia. Kovalev, a native Russian, commented that most Russians still receive their news from the TV, meaning that many Russians perceive the world through a lens that is forced on them by their own government. Kovalev has recently published an article titled, “I’ve reported on Putin – here are my tips for journalists dealing with Trump” which led to a rather important discussion about media relations in the United States under President Trump.

Donald Trump is considered an unconventional United States President, but his popularity in Russia has been soaring thanks to glowing praises ushered onto him by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Kovalev said that Donald Trump is currently the most popular political figure in Russia, a position that Putin has held since he has been in charge of the country. All throughout the media pictures of pro-Trump propaganda appearing throughout Russia have been shown and this is no doubt a response to the praise and the Russian media’s coverage of the new United States leader. Kovalev stated an interesting situation that occurred in October where only 8 minutes out of a 2-hour program news program in Russia were used to cover elections in the Russian Duma, but the same program used more airtime to cover the US election and Trump.

Kovalev also discussed his article and used his time to remind the audience not to waste too much time being distracted by outlandish statements or tweets being released by Donald Trump. He warned that these were nothing more than smoke screens being used to hide what was truly occurring. The more time the media spends discussing tweets, the less time they can spend on covering important news and tracking leads that can break stories that are important to the health and well-being of the country.

During the time for questions, the journalists were asked about the Russian perception of the conflict in the Ukraine and the perception of the Ukraine in general. Kovalev commented on the decisiveness of the issue and how it was a tragic situation that was splitting families apart.

Minor technology problems aside, the event was a success. The crowd seemed engaged and both journalists did a wonderful job of bringing their personal works into the conversation while also answering general questions from students who are less connected than them. The perfect way to celebrate would have been a ceremony with roasted pigs for all, much like the sailors on the Kuznetsov received, but unfortunately this proved to be impossible.

Brad Terrace is a senior majoring in diplomacy and global politics.

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