So you’re a Westerner who wants to become a journalist covering Russia? Once you get past the self-serving bluster, it’s really a very safe, well-paid, and rewarding job – but only on condition that you follow a set of guidelines.
Update 2021: I wrote a version of this article in 2016, but unfortunately it is still as topical as it was last time. I figured it was time for an update because some new names have appeared, and some facts have changed.
1. Mastering and parroting a limited set of tropes is probably the most important part of your work as a journalist in Russia. Never forget to mention that Putin used to work for the KGB. Readers should always be reminded of this: The “former KGB spy,” the “former KGB agent,” etc. Other examples include (but are not limited to) “Putin destroyed democracy,” (which of course ignores what Boris Yeltsin did with US backing in the 1990s), “The Russian economy is dependent on oil,” “There is no media freedom,” “Russia is more corrupt than Zimbabwe,” “Navalny is a political prisoner and Russia’s next Sakharov,” “Russia is really weak” (but also a dire threat!), “Russia is a Potemkin village” and “a dying bear” that is ruled by “a kleptocratic mafia,” “Russia produces nothing…” You get the drift.
2. Not sure who is doing what? Not sure how Russia works? Just make a sentence with the word ‘Kremlin’. Examples include “this will create problems for the Kremlin,” “the Kremlin is insecure,” “the Kremlin’s support of anti-Western dictators,” etc.
3. This ‘Kremlin’- is always wrong, and its motives are always nefarious. If it requires many signatures to register a party, that is authoritarianism, meant to repress liberal voices. If it requires only a few signatures to register a party, that is also authoritarianism, a dastardly plot to drown out the “genuine opposition” amidst a flood of Kremlin-created fake opposition parties.