Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It's not available online

but Michael Specter has a brilliantly good article in this week's New Yorker, "Kremlin, Inc." Just get hold of an issue and read it (the cover date is Jan. 29, 2007), it will make you want to weep at the fate of journalism in Moscow and yet it is also a mysteriously uplifting read because of the sheer clarity and force of the narrative:

"The majority of the population, they are absolutely happy," Alexei Volin, who served for three years as deputy chief of staff in Putin's government and now runs a hgihly successful publishing house, said when we met in Moscow. "They get more money. Consumption has increased two and a half times int he last six years. People are buying cars, country houses, they are going to big shopping malls--as big as those in the United States." Volin, a trim, clean-cut, forty-three-year-old man dressed in a white button-down shirt and khaki Dockers, smiled. "They are just as happy as they can be," he said. "They don't have a headache because of some political problem or the concentration of power. They don't watch TV news. They don't care.

"There is another group," he went on. "They are unhappy, because political life has been frozen. They don't like the situation with Russian television or the press. Several months ago, I talked to one important Kremlin person and I asked him why is our TV news so awful and dull. And his answer was 'Why are you watching TV? People like you should go read the Internet if you want information. TV is not for you. It's for the people.'"

In this context, freedom of the press doesn't matter much and, increasingly in Russia, doesn't exist.


  1. I went to see Specter speak at UC Berkeley a few months ago as part of the New Yorker College Campus Tour. It was great. I recorded it, too. But he stayed away from discussing his upcoming pieces (unless I'm not remembering this correctly). So thanks for the heads up. It's too bad that my New Yorkers got lodged into some kind of mail queue -- I've had the last three issues dumped on me all within the last week. So I'm going to have to skip straight to this article.

    And this isn't terribly interesting, but I took a sly photo of Specter right after the talk ended: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gratzer/340036848/

  2. Great picture--expressive, eh? Of course really people's prose styles are more appealing than their images, but not bad to get a pic that embodies the voice--I like blogging partly because of its disembodied aspect, but at this point in the history of the world any act of reading and writing is likely to find itself embedded in a more complicated dynamic of image & presence...

  3. Exactly. Lots of writing and blogging has multidimensional aspects these days. Though the disembodied aspects of it all are, of course, always appealing -- we can read interesting blogs, have little discussions, interact with people who we normally wouldn't have access to, all without having to embed ourselves in full relationships.

    I've been reading the new yorker for so long, and often wondering what these writers could possibly be like in real life. So when this tour came through my (general) area, I was eager to add some sound and vision to the words. The discussion was especially interesting because they mostly talked about journalism -- about coming up with ideas and finding stories, doing research, doing interviews, building relationships, etc. It's gratifying enough to just see the end result of all the work, but it's also very interesting to be granted a more full picture of the process.

  4. I thought you might be interested to know that Michael Specter is going to be a guest on The Colbert Report on Wednesday, March 7.

    I wonder what he'll talk about. Does he have a book coming out? I like the colbert report, but it's pretty obvious that Colbert rarely ever reads the books of his guests (unlike John Stewart, who often gives off the impression that he's read (at least most of the pages of) them). So I'm usually a little disappointed with Colbert's interviews with people who I know something about. "So, uh, what is this book about again? Five words or less!"