Former Lenta.ru editor runs Russian media site in exile

One year on, the former Lenta.ru editor Galina Timchenko runs his Russian media site in exile, saying journalists should still stand their ground.

RIGA, LATVIA (MARCH 30, 2015) (REUTERS) – In the year since she was dismissed as editor-in chief of popular Russian internet news site Lenta.ru, Galina Timchenko is running an independent, Russia-focused media start-up, and already has 2.5 million visitors a month – in less than five months since starting up.

Timchenko, who was heading Lenta.ru since 2004, was dismissed last March after a state regulatory agency issued a warning over an interview with a member of a Ukrainian far-right group, Right Sector, and included a link to remarks of its leader.

Her removal came before Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine but already at a time when independent media, including a TV and internet channel Dozhd, were under pressure for covering anti-government protests both in Russia and Ukraine.

Last October, Timchenko established an online news outlet Meduza based in Latvia, with 23 journalists both in Riga and in Russia. By March the site attracted more readers per month than Latvia’s overall population of 1,9 million.

Now she wants to double this number – which was already ahead of the plan – in a year, to have 5 million or “a little more” in readers per month. But she is still very modest about the site’s progress.

“I don’t think this is a success, to be frank. It’s too early to say. If we reach self-sufficiency, then it will be a success,” she told Reuters.

“Media is a low-marginal business – we don’t trade drugs, we don’t trade arms, we don’t trade oil. It is a very low-margin business. We have a business plan which predicts reaching self-sufficiency by the end of 2017.”

One of the recent themes raised by Meduza was a special report on Russians suffering cancer, where, lacking help from the state health service, some have chosen to die.

The article, published on the day when prominent Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated, was widely quoted and spurred further discussions on how accessible healthcare is in Russia.

Timchenko says that Meduza, despite its fast growth, is not facing any pressure from Moscow partly because it is still small, plus it is based in the European Union.

She says that in current Russia, media have given up on resisting the authorities before any serious threats were implemented. Reminiscent of the Soviet repercussions on free media, most outlets chose to comply before they were forced to, Timchenko said.

“The thunder didn’t even rumble and everyone got scared,” she said. “It’s like a [collective] memory reacting. Nothing special has happened yet, no journalist was handcuffed and taken away and hopefully it won’t happen, but before anything happened everyone got scared and retreated, put up the white flag. They are already racing to show their loyalty, completely forgetting the principles of the profession; completely forgetting that a journalist is not a comfortable character for everyone and that they should be inconvenient and unacceptable sometimes, because they aren’t allowed to sit comfortably.”

Timchenko, who says she is regularly getting calls from reporters all around Russia offering to write for Meduza, added she hopes her site will stay around for long.

“I would want us to stay for long. Because I am not ready to say we will work for three years and then split up,” she said.

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