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“They're taking my future away from me!” How Russian journalism grads and first-year applicants see their prospects

The crackdown on journalists that began last spring and accelerated after the war started has made it impossible for independent media to operate in Russia; most publications have relocated their editorial staff. At the same time, there are still people in the country who associate their future with Russian journalism. The Insider asked first-year applicants and graduates of journalism schools (names changed) what they expect in the course of their careers, how they feel about censorship, and why they chose journalism among all other professions.

  • «If I accept a job at Rossiya Segodnya or RT, I will be making a deal with my conscience»

  • «Some of my classmates support the war and defend censorship in a chat group»

  • «I am not at all embarrassed by what is happening in Russian journalism»

  • «Why did we get a degree if almost no one can have a professional career in Russia?»

  • «I have a feeling they're taking my future away from me»

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«If I accept a job at Rossiya Segodnya or RT, I will be making a deal with my conscience»

Maria, MSU graduate

I dreamed of journalism since childhood, I liked writing, and I believed this profession had an important social mission. When I entered, I thought I would be writing on social and political matters for some online publication. But in my first year I got an internship at a federal TV channel, and I was very passionate about it. I shot fragments of interviews, interviewed people, I really enjoyed talking to them. But then I began to analyze the policy of that channel and others like it and I realized it didn't fit my beliefs: if I had stayed there I would have had to make all sorts of concessions. The only TV channel I could have worked for no longer exists as you well know (TV Channel Dozhd - The Insider).

If I had stayed at a federal channel, I would have had to make concessions

I can't say that the faculty talked about the situation in journalism as much as they should have. Of course, there are faculty members who openly state their position, and their classes are quite popular. But the official position of the Journalism Department is to avoid possible conflicts.

In February, fears for my professional future, of course, escalated, I had a lot of anxious thoughts. I work for a small online publication about music and culture, but even we began to fear for every word spoken. After I defended my diploma and the initial euphoria passed, I realized I was afraid for what would happen next - with me and with the profession in general.

Despite this, there is still hope. There are still journalists in Russia whom one wants to look up to, who inspire by the fact that they are not afraid to tell the truth. So for now I am not ready to give up the idea of working in journalism. But when I see vacancies in the Rossiya Segodnya or RT news agencies online, I jerk my hand away every time realizing that if I press the “respond” button, I will be making a deal with my conscience.

«I do not want to become a foreign agent, but I am not going to back down either»

Anastasia, first-year applicant

I became interested in journalism in elementary school, and a year ago I entered the School of Young Journalists at the Moscow State University and finally decided to enroll at the Journalism Department. Now I run a Telegram-channel, from time to time I make interviews and reports, write longform stories. Absence of routine and the possibility to spend each day in a special way and to get acquainted with interesting people make journalism attractive to me. Besides, it gives a chance to bring information to people and to influence their decisions and opinions.

I was born and raised in the Urals, where technical professions are much more valued than humanities or creativity. My mother is a housewife, my father is a construction worker, and most of my relatives don't have higher education. This is why my decision to become a journalist was not happily accepted in my family. My father always had a negative attitude towards journalists, but he never said anything directly to me. Deep down, he probably still hoped I would change my mind. My mother, on the other hand, made active attempts to dissuade me. She always wanted me to be a lawyer - the salary is higher and the job is more reliable. This year, however, my mother saw my writings and realized I could not be dissuaded. I don't see any prospects for journalism in the Urals, so I plan to enroll in a Moscow university, where the pressure on me from my relatives will be much less.

This year my mother saw my writings and understood I could not be dissuaded

The first media outlet I started reading was Meduza. The recognition of Meduza as a “foreign agent” was an unpleasant shock for me. After Dozhd, Echo Moskvy, and Novaya Gazeta were closed, I practically stopped reading news; I only sometimes browse Meduza's Telegram channel. I believe it is unacceptable to shut down independent media outlets, it violates the rights of citizens of a democratic state.

Journalists in Russia today do not have many job opportunities: they can either make propaganda, which I consider a violation of all ethical codes, or take huge risks, and I am not that kind of person. Until about a year ago, I wanted to work in political journalism, but the well-known events changed my plans. Now I think my main field of work will be culture. I collect copies of Cinema Art and Dilettante magazines, I read Postnauka, Schrodinger's Cat. I would like to open my own media outlet about art, which I could use to educate people.

For several weeks since the beginning of the war, I doubted whether I had made the right career choice. At the School of Young Journalists, we were told that, if possible, it would be better to choose something else. Over the past few months, however, I realized that I could not see myself in another profession. The possibility of becoming a “foreign agent” does not tempt me at all, but I don't want to give up either.

For several weeks since the beginning of the war, I doubted my choice of profession

«Some of my classmates support the war and defend censorship in a chat group»

Boris, graduate of the Higher School of Economics

In the first months after I entered the university, the media department seemed to me like a realm of triumphant liberalism. I had the feeling that absolutely everyone - classmates and professors alike - shared the liberal ideals. We had an initiation ceremony, in the final part of which we all burned a huge banner with the words “Censorship” on it. It was very symbolic - such a triumph for freedom of speech. But then things started to change.

At the initiation ceremony, we burned a huge banner that said “Censorship”

The increased pressure on the media started to be felt began at our faculty as well. In our first year, we did an educational talk show called “Spon on! Persona,” and invited various guests, including opposition figures. I was one of its hosts. In May 2019, we were supposed to produce a show featuring Lyubov Sobol. We had already started writing a script, but suddenly the project supervisor and part-time head of the educational program “Journalism” Sergey Korzun <founder and first editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy - The Insider> told us that the show was going on vacation. Later, he frankly told us that the university management was against inviting Sobol to the university. In response, Korzun decided to shut down the project. I cannot say that was the first reality check - I had learned about the persecution of the independent media and the opposition back in high school, when I volunteered in the Navalny headquarters and went to rallies. When censors literally meddle in your schoolwork, it is very sobering and shows the real state of affairs.

When censors literally meddle in your learning process, it's very sobering

I can't say that faculty members discussed harassment of journalists with us. It was a common assumption that the Higher School of Economics was out of politics, so for the most part everyone kept quiet, and even those who wrote quietly about such things on Facebook preferred not to speak out in class. But after the war began, on February 27, two highly respected professors held an online lecture for us on how to live in the new reality, resist propaganda, and react to various manipulative techniques online. They talked about everything very decently and answered our questions. I remember how I was watching that lecture literally on my way to an anti-war rally.

In contrast, some of my classmates in a group chat expressed support for the war, reproducing the most rabid propaganda about Donbass, about NATO, and about “nationalistic battalions.” They also defended censorship and said, for example, that the authorities were right in prosecuting Nevzorov. And this was not sarcasm or trolling, they really thought so. Fortunately, they are in the minority so far, but who knows what will happen next. I just want to respond to their “where have you been for eight years?” by asking, “Where have you been in those four years that we were trained to counter manipulation and propaganda?” It goes without saying that all of those people were thrilled at the appointment of the VGTRK host Ernest Mackevicius as head of the HSE Media Department. Most of the students didn't like it, though; one freshman began collecting signatures against his appointment.

I think it is even more interesting to work during such hard times because independent journalism is gaining importance. I work for an independent publication, and I don't regret at all that I chose this profession. Recently my friend and I were discussing our years of study, and we agreed that if we had chosen other liberal arts programs when we enrolled, we would now be biting our elbows and complaining that there was so much going on there, and we were not a part of it.

It's even more interesting to work during such hard times, because independent journalism is gaining importance

«I am not at all embarrassed by what is happening in Russian journalism»

Eva, first-year applicant

I decided to join the Journalism Faculty as an eighth-grade student. I became interested in journalism because it has many different spheres and each of them is fascinating in its own way: you can be a TV anchor, an interviewer, write articles, be a professional blogger and many other things. In addition, there is a lot of spontaneity and activity in the work of a journalist. My parents accepted my choice at once, they understand that to be happy, you've got to do what you want to do. At the moment, I would like to see myself as either a TV news anchor or a travel journalist – that way you can travel and earn money at the same time.

I like two media outlets: TASS and RBC. When I doubt any information, I always check those sources because I'm sure they don't make mistakes. My favorite journalist is Vladimir Posner, as trite as it may sound. I love watching his interviews and delving into the questions he asks. After reading many articles on how to ask questions in an interview, I realized he does it in the most professional way possible: Posner reveals the character of his guests and can talk to them about personal experiences without hurting their feelings.

I am absolutely not embarrassed by what has been happening in Russian journalism in recent years. Firstly, I am sure that the situation will improve in the near future and that independent media and journalists will be able to develop further. Secondly, any professional can now find himself or herself in another field of journalism, which will prove to be more accessible.

«Why did we get a degree if almost no one can have a professional career in Russia?»

Yulia, St. Petersburg State University graduate

I was lucky: I had a lot of competent teachers, there were no outspoken Putinists who would crush us with government propaganda. Sometimes, some of them would come in for a couple of lectures and start by telling us that such and such media outlets had been recognized as “foreign agents,” while others would say that some outright nonsense was going on. But we never had any open discussions on how the authorities had been cracking down on the independent media, even after February 24th. On the other hand, one of the lecturers wrote an open letter in support of the “special operation” and began collecting signatures; I heard she was adding signatures of people who were no longer studying at the university or had already died.

The open letter in support of the “special operation” was signed by people who were no longer studying as the university or had already died.

My classmates, of course, are shocked by what is happening. Many of them are disappointed and feel useless: why did we study and get our degree, if almost no one can have a professional career in Russia? By the way, one girl from our group was last year recognized as a “foreign agent” for her activism, she is now in exile (Elena Skvortsova, a former SMM editor for Team 29 - The Insider). I also support all the activists, but I'm not up to it myself yet.

In the next few years, I plan to do graphic design, and possibly develop media for teens. Right now, I'm teaching teenagers the basics of journalism and I want to create an environment where they can express their own thoughts, not what they're being told at school. In our studio classes, we try to discuss what is going on, as far as our internal censorship allows it: on the one hand, you think it is important to talk about something, but on the other hand, you don't know how teenagers' parents are going to react to it. For example, the mothers of some students did not like the fact that we were studying Meduza's reports and Yuri Dud's interviews. Apparently, they see journalism as something different.

«I have a feeling they're taking my future away from me»

Polina, MSU graduate

When I joined the Journalism Faculty in 2018, I thought it would be cool to work for Meduza or Novaya Gazeta, although at the time I was not very immersed in the political agenda and did not read the media much. In my first year I was disappointed, I even considered dropping out: there weren't many core subjects, plus I didn't like the lecturers much. In the end I decided I would work in advertising or marketing, but then I joined the political journalism module - and everything changed. <This March the faculty administration decided “to optimize” the educational modules “Political Journalism” and “Social Journalism” - The Insider>. We actively studied there, learning to work with sources and discussing what was going on in journalism and with journalists, for example the police search in Roman Anin's apartment. So in my third year I realized I really wanted to be a journalist, and then I landed an internship at Novaya Gazeta.

When the war started, our instructors tried very hard to support us. But I felt those were isolated attempts - most of the faculty kept silent and refrained from speaking out on the subject. Although there are some faculty members who post videos in support of the war on their VKontakte pages.

Most of the faculty are silent and refrain from speaking out about the war

Of course, the situation in Russian journalism is sad, and there is a feeling that the future is being taken away from me. However, I do not think that everything has been banned in Russia, and that I won't be able to have a career. On the contrary, I'm becoming angrier, I want to make a bigger difference. I understand that's where I'm needed, and I am willing to take the risks. Many publications work for a Russian-speaking audience while physically not in Russia - perhaps this is the way for me.

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