Write so you don´t end up in prison

Russian journalists (from left): Anna Kriek, Lilia Khlebnikova, Bella Petroshenko, Sergei Surin, Irina Khrustaleva.

Everyday life for Russian journalists rarely provides an opportunity for the development of ideas, cases or thoughts on narrative tools. The Nordic Journalist Center is trying to help remedy that with a series of courses for Russian journalists

By Joan Rask

In only a matter of minutes, the course participants realise that this is completely different to what they are used to. That is what course leader and journalist Peter Sommerstein says.

The participants are from Russia. Most are under 30 years old. They are all here voluntarily – and they have been chosen from among hundreds of other interested journalists.

“I am having a discussion with them rather than lecturing them, which is what they are used to,” Peter Sommerstein says.

He has worked at almost all levels in the Swedish media industry in the last 30 years, he is an expert on conditions in Russia and for many years has been teaching about the media industry in Russia and in other regions, where, for one reason or another, freedom of the press is under pressure.


Peter Sommerstein at NGO-institute Regional Press-Institute, Saint-Petersburg

Nordic teaching

Peter Sommerstein runs the NJC-courses in Russia as identically to the Nordic courses as possible. This challenges the course participants from the beginning.

“They are always saying that they cannot do certain things because of the system. I am shifting their focus over to what they can do – without going to prison for it,”  he says.

Peter Sommerstein senses the participants’ energy levels rise significantly as they realise that there are other narrative methods to those they already know.

35 proposals

The tool kit that Peter Sommerstein opens up for the participants has 35 concrete proposals and examples of different methods. For example, one of them is the use of case studies. Something that seldom happens in Russian papers.

“Instead of confronting the responsible parties and giving the government’s people all the speaking time so they can make official announcements, they can instead tell personal stories and give third party sources a voice,” he says.

In his experience, the young journalists are very competent and quick to grasp the potential in that form of narrative.

“They are really developing a lot. When they first get overa personal barrier and ask themselves: What could we do – then something happens, says the expert on Russian matters.

In actual fact, he admits that the participants are often so enthusiastic in their evaluations of the course that he becomes quite embarrassed. He hastens to add that this is because there is such a big difference in comparison to what the participants are used to encountering at courses and in the educational system.

Russian journalist:

– This course has given me new strength to do good journalism. I will try and apply for instance the method of telling the stories through people, affected by political decisions.

Make a difference

For Peter Sommerstein, the courses for Nordic Journalist Center are a part of a bigger picture. He wishes to share his long experience as a boss, middle manager and as a journalist. He does that in regions and in countries where there really is a need to learn – not only for the individual journalist’s sake, but also because it has such a huge importance for the populations.

“Sadly, Russia has taken a step backwards in terms of freedom of speech,” he says.

Despite this – or perhaps precisely because of it – he carries on his work. This year, on behalf of Nordic Journalist Center, he has led three courses in Russia with another one coming up in November in Kaliningrad. On the courses, the journalists learn how they can progress from the idea stage to a final product. Here, the journalists’ safety and future job prospects constantly have to be taken into consideration.

“They, of course, have to learn to write in such a way that they don’t end up in prison, or worse”, says Peter Sommerstein.


Quotations from the participants:

– I will use Mindmap, as an important tool to organize my interviews before I go out!

– This course has given me new strength to do good journalism. I will try and apply for instance the method of telling the stories through people, affected by political decisions.

– The Funnel, the way I as a journalist should process an idea in depth, before going out is an eye-opener!


The Nordic Journalist Center organises courses for Russian journalists as a part of a two year funding programme from The Nordic Council of Ministers

The goal is to give Russian journalists knowledge and competencies in the field of journalism, so they are as capable as possible of delivering journalistic articles, features etc.

In 2016, two courses were held in Saint Petersburg, and planning is underway for courses in both Kaliningrad and Murmansk during autumn/winter 2016.

In Danish