How does research work when you can no longer enter the country you are investigating due to the threat of politically motivated persecution? How do you communicate with sources when you are not allowed to call them or meet them in person?
Russia’s war of aggression and the accompanying crackdown on Russian media have led to a mass exodus of independent Russian media. Many of these media outlets are now reporting from exile, and are confronted with the question of how to keep reporting on certain topics when they can no longer be on the ground. The panel “Staying close without being on site – research methods of Russian journalists in exile” discussed this question from three very different perspectives.
REPORTING ON THE WAR
Ekaterina Fomina from the investigative platform IStories has specialized in researching war crimes since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She continues to focus on direct communication and on-site research. Her story about a Russian soldier who admitted to killing a civilian in Ukraine has attracted great international attention. After the phone call with the soldier, she continued her research in Ukraine, where she tracked down the family of the Ukrainian man who was killed.
“I was surprised by the openness of Ukrainians, even by those whose relatives were killed by Russians. They distinguished between us reporters and those who have invaded their country.”
Ekaterina Fomina, Investigative Journalist IStories
The investigative media outlet Agentstvo is increasingly working with data-based research methods. This is the only way to produce trustworthy content without endangering people on the ground:
“Since the tightening of Russian media laws it became much more difficult to talk to our sources. Especially the communication with official sources is becoming increasingly difficult. Conversely, these sources are also becoming less and less trustworthy. So we are more and more focusing on data tools like OSINT.”
Editor-in-Chief of Agentstvo
AGENCY FOR JOURNALISTS ON THE GROUND
The media outlet Novaya Vladka/The New Tab, co-founded in 2022 in Latvia by exiled journalist Mikhail Danilovich, pursues a very unique strategy. The medium is specializing in stories from different regions of Russia, which is impossible without having contacts on the ground. Therefore, The New Tab cooperates with freelance writers in Russia, with whom it researches and publishes together.
“We are a window to Russia, which is important. With our reporting, we focus on human rights issues in Russia and Russian regions, because these things do not disappear even during the war.”
Mikhail Danilovich, Co-Founder and Director of The New Tab
Not all of these authors are experienced journalists, which is why The New Tab offers them mentoring programs and puts them in contact with editors. The business operations are being run from exile, where new distribution channels and collaborations with other media outlets can be established.
NO MONETIZATION OPTIONS IN RUSSIA
Regardless of what strategies a Russian media outlet in exile pursues or how successful its publications are, there are currently no options for monetizing their operations through a Russian audience. Not only does the blocking of all independent Russian media negatively impact the visibility of their content, major technology companies such as YouTube have all but eliminated the ability to make money from journalistic content.
“The model of the independent media in Russia has been killed, so there are no income sources. Right now, we all rely on external funding.”
Editor-in-Chief of Agentstvo
Good journalism costs money, and the development of new business models takes time. In order to survive and continue to provide people in Russia with access to independent information, the Russian exile media landscape currently depends on financial and structural support. Otherwise, propaganda and censorship win.
The panel was moderated by NDR editor and author Mareike Aden and organized by the JX Fund.