[Rostislav "Rostik" Vylegzhanin"
Rostislav Vylegzhanin, or "Rostik" is co-founder and editor Realno.info, the first Russian citizen journalism site Realno.info, which launched last November. He is also an executive editor of Ogoniok oldest Russian magazine. Earlier this year, Rostin lead the committee that produced the first Russian-based international blogging conference.
Rostik makes clear that citizen journalism has greater importance in countries where traditional media are controlled by monoliths. He also gives me a whole new respect for LiveJournal from Six Apart.
1. Can you give me a general idea about technology and Internet access in the Russian Federation? How many people have cell phones, PCs, internet and broadband access?
Recent surveys estimate that about 25-30% of Russian citizens are Internet users. Some are online daily at home or at work, others just use the Web several times in a year.
About 30% of families have PCs, not all of them connected to the Internet. Around 65% own cell phones, but not more than 20% of them use WAP, GPRS, EDGE to connect to the Internet.
In our big cities most people use ADSL, WLAN, WiFi or WiMax to connect. It's not very expensive. In Moscow for example unlimited access costs about $20-25 a month, but in some cases one can find $9 unlimited rates. I should also mention that many people don't have Internet connection at home but they are active Internet users at work for both personal and business use.
In outlying regions, small cities and towns there are still many dial-up users. Costs are sometimes very high. But in more and more places at least ADSL-connection is replacing dial-up.
2. Can you tell me about your Citizen Journalism activities? How did it get started? How is it doing? How does traditional media view what you are doing?
If it is ok, I will quote my report for OhmyNews International Forum 2007. [Shel note: I did some extracting and condensing to the following portion-SI]
Practically all Russian TV is state-owned and “censored” (I use quote marks because censorship is Constitutionally prohibited but exists de facto). Most Russian national newspapers are also controlled by authorities. Most regional media is controlled by regional governments.
There are only a few independent national radio stations, as well as a few national independent newspapers. Some regions have independent media, but practically all of them are under pressure.
Freedom of press has been gradually worsening since 2000, when Vladimir Putin took office.
I have to state that we have no freedom of expression and freedom of press in today's Russia. It means that mass media doesn't play a watchdog role for democracy and doesn't serve public interest as they must.
Only the Internet still remains as an absolutely free mediasphere in Russia where all viewpoints can be expressed, where all political leanings are represented.
I don't know why authorities haven't tried to control the Internet yet. Maybe because only one-third of Russians use it, so the Internet is less influential than TV.
Thus, it's not surprising that blogs became popular for hosting public discussions on topics the traditional mass media ignore and for spreading information that cannot be published or broadcast by Big Media.
The American blog-hosting service LiveJournal.com has become especially popular in Russia. Today it hosts about one million Russian blogs who come form intellectual elite, journalists, politicians, active citizens and so on. LiveJournal represents Russian civic society as it is. That's why the roots of citizen journalism and citizen reporting in Russia are in LiveJournal.
Until last November, there were no citizen journalism sites in the Russian part of the Web, ones like OhmyNews and many other sites that attract user-created news stories just weren't here.
I graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations in summer of last year. My diploma work was about blogs and citizen journalism. Being inspired by successful examples of citizen journalism sites in the US and, of course, by OhmyNews, I had strong desire to launch the first Russian site that would attract citizen reporting and become a mass-medium without any kind of censorship that affects traditional media.
At the same time, the same idea emerged in the 2000-member NGO Club of Regional Journalists. We decided to combine efforts. On Nov. 7, 2007, we launched the first Russian citizen journalism site called Realno.info (means “in reality”).
Fifty regional professional journalists from the Club became our first citizen reporters, publishing on Realno.info those news-stories they couldn't publish in their own media because of imposed 'censorship', pressure or even self-censorship.
Today Realno.info joins together 320 citizen reporters and professional journalists from all over the country post from five to 15 times daily. All our contributors are volunteers. The site doesn't pay anything them anything.
Realno.info attracts about 1000 unique visitors daily.
Our investors stopped financing the site in March. So, there is no money for programming and promotion. While we are trying to find ways to continue, I can't say for sure that this project will succeed.
3. So, is there a future for citizen journalism in Russia?
What makes me optimistic is the speed of growth in the Russian blogosphere.
But still, there is a long way to go before we can bring the culture of citizen journalism to Russia. Because citizen journalism isn't only blogging.
Realno.info will continue work in this sphere. Now we're preparing the second Moscow conference on citizen media, which will take place in Moscow next spring. I hope, we'll be able to invite some of you to this conference to speak about your own experiences in citizen journalism.
4. At least from the people Hugo has pointed me to, Citizen Journalism seems to be really taking off in your section of the world. Why do you think that is?
The only reason I see is that people are very passive. It's just mentality.
5. Tell me about other social media in Russia. What tools are being used? Is it mostly young people using social networks?
Blog hosting, social networks (sites like classmates.com) and video hostings are very popular. Not only young people use blogs, social networks, etc., but users of different ages, professions and so on. For example an average age of a LiveJournal user in the US is 18. In Russia it's 21.
6. Are businesses using social media and if so, which tools and for what purposes?
Some companies have their own blogs to contact their customers, ut not many. Most of the companies that use social media simply advertise themselves on Internet social networks and blog-hostings.
7. Besides Russian, what languages do Russian people speak?
Practically all people in Russia speaks Russian. All sites in the .RU internet zone are in Russian.
But in national republics that are parts of the Russian Federation, people also speak their native languages. Like the Tatar language or the Bashkir language.
Not many (but more-and-more) Russians speak foreign languages. The most popular are English and German.
8. Do social media have much impact on Russia culture? Do you think it will impact it in the next 5-10 years?
LiveJournal has a real impact on Russian social and political life. LiveJournal in Russia became the place where Russian citizen society is forming. I think the influence of blogs and especially blogs in LiveJournal on Russian life will increase in the next years.
9. Could social media improve the relationships between Russians and Americans?
They already do. I think, when everyday Russians watch Americans on YouTube, they understand how much in common we have. And vice versa.