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Weekly Digest: (Un)free Press in Russia and China, New Ways to Connect

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

Russia has continued its crackdown on free press with another independent outlet, the Insider, labeled a “foreign agent” last Friday. The Insider is a local partner of the Bellingcat project in Russia; it’s known for its high-profile investigations into the Salisbury poisonings and FSB attacks on Alexei Navalny.

The Guardian calls this move “an apparent act of revenge for helping reveal the Kremlin’s role in the Salisbury poisonings and assassination attempts by the security agencies”. Five individual journalists were also designated “foreign agents” last Friday.

In recent months, the Russian government has used “foreign agent” designations against some notable news outlets. Although the labeling doesn’t formally prevent a publication from operating, it makes doing so much more difficult through a number of ways. Most recently, VTimes, an independent business outlet, was forced to close after being named a “foreign agent.”

More from The Fix: Meduza counters Russian authorities’ “foreign agent” attack with appeal to readers 

China has also not been at the forefront of press freedom recently, and this week a number of foreign journalists were harassed while covering floods in the province of Henan.

Media workers from the BBC and Los Angeles Times received death threats, and a local branch of the Communist Party’s Youth League asked its 1.6 million social media followers to watch a BBC journalist reporting on the floods.

Although the attacks didn’t come from the government, foreign journalists see the overall situation with press freedom in the country as one that enables harassment of reporters. Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China claimed in a statement that “rhetoric from organizations affiliated with China’s ruling Communist Party directly endangers the physical safety of foreign journalists in China and hinders free reporting.”

The Guardian revealed its financial results for the past financial year, showing robust growth in readership revenue, notably including revenue from outside the United Kingdom.

Digital subscriptions and recurring contributions hit record numbers, and digital reader revenue was up 61% year-over-year. Guardian Media Group’s revenue was £225.5 million (€264.5 million). According to the Press Gazette’s summary, “more than half of The Guardian’s digital reader revenue comes from outside the UK… helped by a dramatic US election campaign.”

These results emphasise the growth in digital subscriptions experienced across the board in news media last year, as well as the increasing attention to journalism during the calamitous year of the pandemic. Both trends have slowed down this year as the pandemic recedes in the West, but they remain highly relevant.

More from The Fix: Media Insider podcast series kicks off with reader revenue deep-dive

 

Substack, a newsletter platform that has been attracting top journalists in the US and abroad over the past year, has acquired Letter, a public correspondence service.

According to Digiday, which broke the story this week, “the acquisition comes as Substack’s biggest, newest competitors are trying to position newsletters as one hub in a larger relationship between creators and their audience.”

One of Substack’s competitive advantages when competing with Facebook’s, Twitter’s and others’ alternatives could be to provide new ways for connections, collaboration and “bundling” across different writers – and this purchase might provide an opportunity for the company to do so. 

More from The Fix: The (mostly) bright future of newsletters / Beginning of a newsletter arms race 

Photo by Nerses Khachatryan on Unsplash

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