March 18, 2014

In Defense


In Defense

This editorial was printed in our March/April 2014 issue, before the events in Crimea began to unfold. It is all the more important now, to help readers understand what our magazine is about, and what our mission is as journalists covering Russia.


The negativity of western press coverage in the buildup to the Sochi Olympics was rather more than even we expected. Certainly some of it was deserved, some not (see my February 7 blog post to this effect). Yet, thankfully, once the competition began the focus turned to the athletes who had all worked so hard to get to Russia. And, as of this writing on February 12, it has been a truly exciting, amazing competition.

Meanwhile, there were some during this fracas who wondered to me out loud if it was not rather difficult having to “defend Russia and all it has become.” To which I replied rather simply:

“At Russian Life we don't defend Russia. That's not our job. And neither is attacking Russia.”

As I have noted in this space before, there is no such thing as “objective” media and we make no claim of impartiality. But our bias is not one that leads us to say that all about Russia is either good or ill. Our bias is our tendency to be more interested in, more drawn to things Russian. And we do our best to present all sides of this complex country in the most balanced way we know how.

The range of topics we cover in each issue is a reflection of this. In this issue, for instance, we have stories on the northern tundra, folk art, terror and the Church, Vladimir Nabokov, a secret bunker in the UK, Russian troops in Paris, subbotniks, Karelian pies and shapka-ushankas.

Our definition of a Russophile is not someone who blindly embraces all things Russian as superior, but someone who is innately fascinated by Russia because it is different, because it is interesting, because it is important.

While we are on the subject of bias, let me share some guiding principles that comprise the fuzzy outlines of our editorial philosophy:

  • Treat freedom of speech as sacrosanct. A society cannot be free without it. Any attempt by anyone, anywhere, to limit anything other than hate speech (or that which incites violence) should be scrutinized mightily.
  • Avoid oversimplification and distortion. And stereotypes.
  • Embrace pluralism and toleration. And diversity.
  • Seek understanding, not truth. No, all things are not relative. In most situations, there is in fact a right or wrong. It may not be the same for everyone, but it is there. You just need to stare and study long enough. If you find it, don't moralize. Just note what you see and why, then move on.
  • Beware the person who claims to have the one right answer. About anything.
  • Shine a bright light on anyone whose actions destroy the planet, the past, or our common future.
  • Expose and condemn violence.
  • Use humor liberally when covering politicians, celebrities and zealots. And, most importantly, yourself.
  • Question all sources' motives, and always disclose one's own to readers.
  • Maintain a clear line between advertising and editorial.
  • Be original.
  • Be independent.
  • Be accountable.

You can help with that last one. If you see us straying from our principles, please tell us what you see. Sometimes we get a bit busy or amped up on coffee and forget which way is up.

Enjoy the issue.

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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

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