Journalism that builds bridges

Russiske journalister undervises i journalistik

Despite the Corona crisis, it has been possible to keep the Nordic-Northwest Russian journalist co-operation at almost the same level as before Covid-19

For more than 10 years, the Nordic Journalist Centre, in close collaboration with Russian partners, has organized workshops, seminars, study trips and masterclasses for local and regional journalists from Northwest Russia. In March 2020 however, the Corona crisis put a full stop to activities. The borders closed, and no one was able to travel. This forced the parties to rethink.

“We had to postpone several activities, but we soon realized, that we had to continue – in some way or the other,” says John Frølich, director of the Nordic Journalist Centre (NJC), based in Aarhus, Denmark.

The main Russian project partner, Anne Kireeva, head of Barents Press Russia, agrees:

“The Pandemic situation of 2020 has shown how extremely important our activities are. Everyday life for Russian regional journalists rarely provides an opportunity for training, discussion with colleagues from other regions and countries,” says Kireeva.

Therefore it was decided to reorganize in different ways. Usually, the course leaders are Nordic Russian teams of highly skilled journalists and editors. Now – due to Covid-19 – it was either Nordic correspondents, already based in Russia, or Nordic course leaders presenting their interventions or keynotes online.

“The quality of online presentations and the following debate will never be the same as with physical presence, but we have been able to maintain the level of activity, and that’s the most important thing,” says Anna Kireeva.

The current two-year project entitled “Nordic-Northwest Russian Journalist Co-operation” is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

“We consider the principle of journalist collaboration to be extremely important,” Frølich continues.

“The Nordic course leaders don’t present some sort of ‘Nordic factsheet’, but rather their own experience in relation to the topic, followed by open discussion and sharing of best practices.”

As an examble one of the seminars held in the Russian city of Petrozavodsk focused on how to cover sensitive topics such as domestic violence, suicide, and sexual orientation. During the course, it became apparent that there can be huge differences in working conditions – and in rules and legislation – in the different countries when dealing with these topics.

Nevertheless the basic journalistic and ethical dilemmas are the same and after fruitful discussions is was clear that both Nordic and Russian participants had new insights.

Birth preparations for Russian men
“Good co-operation between Nordic and Russian journalists is needed if we’re to increase knowledge and understanding among people in general,” Frølich says.

In 2019 NJC published a report about media coverage based on stereotypes of “the others”.
The report entitled “Russia in Nordic News Media” was launced at an event at the House of Journalists in Nevski Prospect, organized by St. Petersburg Union of Journalists.

The report points out that the focus of the media is often on high-level politics and security issues on a very broad plain. While topics like culture, education and regional development in Russia almost never gets covered. The NJC-report aims to give editorial teams insight into news coverage in general and make them consider whether the coverage can be more diverse and supplemented with other stories about their neighbors.

NJC provides an example of how this can be done by way of its Next to Me project. Here, photojournalists from Russia and the Nordic Region were working together with the task of depicting day-to-day life on both sides of the Baltic Sea.

The project resulted in visual narratives that rarely reach regular news coverage. The pictures have been published in a book of the same name, Next to Me, where readers are treated to paternal birth preparations in Russia and home guard exercises in Denmark. One of the young photographers, Katinka Hustad, later won the Picture of the Year Award in Norway. The winning image was shot in Greenlandia area in St. Petersburg and is now in the photobook “Next to Me”.

New partner: St. Petersburg Union of Journalists
A relatively new partner, St. Petersburg Union of Journalists, has high hopes for continued collaboration. In an interview with the Russian “Consul magazine” the chairman of the union, Andrey Radin, states as follows:

“St Petersburg has always served as the bridge between Russia and Europe. We have especially warm and positive relations with our colleagues from the Nordic countries. We are neighbors and we have a lot to discuss and to do together. St Petersburg union of journalists is very thankful to NJC and Nordic Council of Ministers who have organized lots of great activities through all these years. I am absolutely sure that journalists must always be in touch and we are looking forward to new events together,” says Andrey Radin.