Staunton, March 6 – All the forces that are buffeting the media marketplace at the all-Russian level – the collapse of advertising revenues, the shift from print to electronic forms, and the growing importance of blogs compared to news outlets – are hitting the regional media markets as well, Fyodor Krasheninnikov says.
But those commonalities obscure some of the specific changes in the regions that are having a profound impact on the ability of governors to set and control the agenda, to limit contacts between the region and its neighbors, and to prevent stories it wants killed from reaching Moscow outlets, the Yekaterinburg analyst says (politsovet.ru/54671-novye-media-i-buduschee-obschestvenno-politicheskih-smi.html).
These distinctive features of regional media markets, he continues, reflect the small size of the attentive publics there, the ability of an individual blogger to play a much larger role than in Moscow or St. Petersburg, and, in an indication that this pattern may not last, the inability of bloggers to monetarize their activities online.
In Yekaterinburg and Sverdlovsk oblast, “paper social-political papers as a genre have already died de facto,” Krasheninnikov says. “The most boring ‘Oblastnaya gazeta’ continues to exist only because it receives subsidies from the budget. All the remaining social-political journalism has already shifted to the Internet and is developing only there.”
“But as it turns out, information sites are also not the last word in the development of the media but themselves only a transitional form.” Now, with the development of higher speeds, Internet media are competing not just with print outlets but with radio and television as well, often cherrypicking stories that they couldn’t have covered earlier.
And just behind them, Krasheninnikov continues, “are their potential gravediggers – bloggers and video bloggers” who can produce their own content or retranslate it from other sources more quickly than anyone else. Such outlets can promote their own agenda extremely effectively, including on issues the powers that be would prefer not to be raised.
The key factor in all this is the size of the potential audience: “It isn’t a secret for anyone that the real audience which is interested in the social-political life of a region is in the best case several thousand people and on a daily basis many fewer than that.” That gives any one participant a disproportionate ability to set the agenda.
“This active minority is key for control over the region,” he says. “Besides officials and journalists writing about them are included major entrepreneurs, civic activities and that group which one could provisionally designate as ‘leaders of public opinion,” some in the region and some far afield, including in Moscow.
Bloggers who focus on this group have more impact than Internet news sites and frequently ensure that local stories become all-Russian ones regardless of what the governor and his team want. That is what happened in the case of the story about the new cathedral in Yekaterinburg.
But this “uncontrolled interference in the regional agenda of federal resources and bloggers creates a completely new situation.” In the past, governors had a major voice in what got covered; now they have lost that; and bloggers are the ones who have taken over, at least for a time.
What remains to be seen is how long the bloggers will be this new dominant force given that the small size of their audience means that they have little chance of monetarizing their Internet activities and thus being able to live on their earnings. That may give the governors a entry back into the media game, but as of now, the situation is very much unclear.