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Weekly Digest: Crackdowns & New Media in Russia, Changing Audio Scene

Weekly digest for October 15, 2021

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest for October 15! Every week, we bring you important news stories  from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

Last Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize went to Dmitry Muratov, the chief editor of Novaya Gazeta, a leading independent news outlet in Russia. Muratov shared the prize with Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, an online news publisher in the Philippines. Over the past two decades, Novaya Gazeta has lost 6 journalists murdered for their investigative work, most famously Anna Politkovskaya.

Putin’s spokesman (though not Putin himself) congratulated Muratov on winning the prize. However, just hours later Russian authorities continued their crackdown on free press, designating further reporters and outlets as “foreign agents.” Nine individuals were labeled “foreign agents,” including reporters working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as well as BBC and the TV Rain (Dozhd) channel.

Among organisations, the most notable addition is Bellingcat, an investigative initiative known for its high-profile work on the shoot-down of the MH17 flight in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, among others. (According to Meduza, Bellingcat’s leaders don’t expect the designation to have a significant impact on their work).

The team behind VTimes, an independent business news outlet in Russia that closed this summer after the “foreign agent” labeling ruined its business, is launching a new publication called VPost.

VTimes was launched last year by a team of senior editors from leading Russian business publication Vedomosti. They quit after the latter was bought by a Kremlin-friendly businessman (and saw its editorial freedom curtained). VTimes managed to build a successful publication, but the 2021 media crackdown forced the outlet to close; most advertisers pulled out after the “foreign agent” designation.

Now, the team is back with VPost. For now, it only operates on social media, but the outlet plans to launch a site and record podcasts. It’s backed by an anonymous Russian investor. VPost is led by three editors and includes seven more journalists, with plans to expand later.

According to Meduza’s interview with VPost’s editor Kirill Kharatian, the outlet will keep its focus on business and finances. However, in contrast with Vedomosti, they will have to tone down on high-profile journalistic investigations.

More from The Fix: Ex-Vedomosti journalists embark on tough path to (re)build an independent financial media in Russia / Russian Media Outlet VTimes closing after being labeled a “foreign agent”  

The New York Times announced the launch of a new app. It will focus on audio journalism, including podcasts and articles’ audio versions. The app isn’t widely available yet, the company is now recruiting users to test its beta versions.

This moves NYT closer to creating a comprehensive audio subscription product without relying on third parties like Apple or Spotify. As Adweek’s Mark Stenberg notes, “in testing the willingness of its audience to seek out its content on a standalone app, The Times is gauging the viability of an owned-and-operated audio product, which could reduce its reliance on intermediaries, as well as offer a host of data and advertising advantages.”

NYT has significantly expanded its audio formats in recent years. Its news podcast The Daily launched in 2017 is one of the most popular podcasts in the world. In 2020, the company brought in several high-profile podcast hosts for its “Opinion” section, including Ezra Klein and Kara Swisher. Last year The New York Times Company acquired Audm, a service that creates audio versions of longform journalism pieces. They also made several other acquisitions in the podcasting space. 

More from The Fix: Daily news podcasts are now in the league of mainstream news products 

Bonus — Three more stories you might want to check out:

Photo by Luca Vavassori on Unsplash


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