There is a new go-to destination online for finding out what’s really going on in Russia.
Meduza, which launched its English-language edition Monday morning, is an energetic young news startup, something of a hyper-intelligent, delightfully smartass Vox-meets-Gawker covering Russian affairs with original reporting and incisive aggregation.
The real Russia, today.
First launched in Russian just over three months ago, Meduza was born out of the heavy turnover last year at Lenta.ru, one of Russia’s most popular online news sources. Site owner Alexander Mamut fired the editor-in-chief, and most employees quit or were fired soon after. This was allegedly done in order to turn the site into a Kremlin-friendly propaganda machine, and the staff change was widely interpreted as an act of censorship.
“Lenta became one of the top media outlets in the country and its readership was comparable to the viewership of a major TV station in Russia, with 20 million uniques per month,” Konstantin Benyumov, Meduza’s English editor, told the Daily Dot. “It reached its peak with the start of the Ukrainian crisis. Our chief editor was fired out of the blue, and it had to do with our Ukraine coverage. Almost all of us quit, only to be replaced with someone pro-Kremlin.”
Several of the former Lenta employees teamed up to start a new venture, and from the ashes of the old Lenta, Meduza was born. The English site’s tagline reads “The real Russia, today,” a damning dig at Russia’s state-owned news network Russia Today.
Meduza operates out of Riga, a city in the neighboring country of Latvia that’s only a two-hour flight away from Moscow. The publication employs 16 staffers in Latvia and three special correspondents in Moscow.
Because Meduza doesn’t operate within Russian borders, the site is not prone to the same legal repercussions it might face were it operating in Russia. “The idea of going to Latvia was to be as far from their reach as possible,” Benyumov said. “Legally, they can’t do anything to us, but they can block access to the site within Russian borders.”
Meduza’s independence grants it all kinds of editorial freedom that Russia’s censorship-happy government would trample. As Meduza editor-in-chief Galina Timchenko previously stated, “it is possible to establish an independent publishing house in Latvia, while in Russia it is impossible.”
For example, Meduza covered the recent blacklisting and blocking of Deti-404, an online community for Russian LGBT youth, on the charge that it encourages the spread of homosexual propaganda and suicide among minors. By contrast, this news was sorely lacking from Russia Today’s coverage.
Meduza is “too small” for the government to notice for now, according to Benyumov. But it’s growing rapidly—Meduza just crossed the threshold of 2 million unique monthly visitors, and its new English-speaking audience stands poised to push that number higher in months to come.
“The demand for unbiased and objective information is there, but it could prove that it’s not universal,” said Benyumov. “For now, our English site is likely to be more of a service than an actual website. Journalists and academics are the first groups who come to mind. We understand we’re not there for mass readers, but we want to make sure the info is out there.”
Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III