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Bad bosses ‘Vedomosti’ fights for its independence as editors appeal to future owners, demanding a new editor-in-chief

Source: Meduza
Dmitry Korotaev / Kommersant

The announced sale of Vedomosti and the appointment of Andrey Shmarov as acting editor-in-chief has led to a crisis at the respected Russian newspaper. This week, deputy editors appealed to the paper’s new owners in a letter where they warn that the newsroom is in chaos, advertisers are in shock, and subscribers are demanding refunds for paid subscriptions. The letter’s authors argue that the only remedy is to appoint a new chief editor from among the newsroom’s own ranks. They want the job to go to Anfisa Voronina. The appeal to Vedomosti’s new owners follows Shmarov’s interference in a recently published report where he secretly changed the headline for a story about Russia’s largest oil producer, Rosneft.

Vedomosti’s senior editors sent their letter (Meduza obtained a copy) to the two men who will soon become the newspaper’s new owners: tabloid publisher Nasha Versiya (Our Take) president Konstantin Zyatkov and Arbat Capital managing director Alexey Golubovich.

In the text, the editors describe a newsroom crisis caused by its new leadership: “The rapid change of the chief editor and the appointment of people who are strangers to journalistic principles and this publication’s internal culture as Vedomosti’s acting chief editor and editorial director has destabilized the newsroom, and shocked newsmakers and advertisers.” Four deputy senior editors signed the letter: Alexander Gubsky, Boris Safronov, Filipp Sterkin, and Kirill Kharatyan, as well as managing editor Dmitry Simakov.

The editors say key journalists at Vedomosti are already beginning to resign. “There is an acute crisis of confidence both within the newsroom, where staff do not want to work with new leaders they don’t know, and outside Vedomosti, where readers and advertisers have been stunned by the new appointments. Subscribers are already asking for refunds on paid subscriptions,” say the editors in their letter, arguing that the only way out of this situation is to replace Andrey Shmarov with someone from inside Vedomosti’s editorial team, preferably Anfisa Voronina, who currently heads the partner project Vedomosti&.

Vedomosti deputy senior editor Boris Safronov confirmed to Meduza that he and his colleagues sent a letter to the newspaper’s new buyers. “On the whole, the reason was Andrey Shmarov’s very appointment and then his ‘tremendous’ speech to the staff, which you must have heard about, and his first steps as editor-in-chief. All this showed that he isn’t somebody with Vedomosti’s DNA in his bones. Because of this, our journalists have already started taking concrete steps to find work [elsewhere],” says Safronov.

According to Safronov, Vedomosti’s senior editors have their own candidate for the top spot on the newspaper’s editorial board. “Of course, [the appointment] wouldn’t be so slapdash,” he says. “It’s Anfisa Voronina, who’s worked for 20 years in Russia’s leading business publications, including 12 years at Vedomosti.”

The editors who wrote the letter say they have not yet received a “noticeable response” either from the newspaper’s buyers or from its previous owners, who have also been informed of the situation at Vedomosti. “We would like for them to figure out amongst themselves who’s even responsible right now for resignations and appointments,” Safronov explained.

Demyan Kudryavtsev, Vladimir Voronov, and Martin Pompadur announced on March 17 that they were selling the newspaper to Zyatkov and Golubovich. While the deal has not yet been sealed, the three previous owners’ assets have already begun to shift to Zyatkov and Golubovich. That transfer accompanied the appointment of two new top officials at the paper: Shmarov, who co-founded the magazine Expert, and his new editorial director Yury Katsman, who previously published the magazine Trade Secret and was the chief editor of the newspaper F5.

During Shmarov’s very first meeting with his staff, he told Vedomosti’s newsroom that he does not read the newspaper himself and that he is unfamiliar with its so-called “Dogma,” a set of internal rules for Vedomosti’s staff that has long set the standard for business journalists in Russia as a whole. When Open Media reported on the meeting, Vedomosti reporters also said they were angry that Shmarov said he saw nothing much wrong with the idea that the new owners could edit articles themselves. A source independently confirmed Open Media’s report to Meduza.

Then, on March 30, Andrey Shmarov rewrote a headline for a story after it had already been posted on Vedomosti’s website. The story was about the Russian oil company Rosneft’s sales of its Venezuelan assets, and Shmarov did not notify either the author of the text or any of Vedomosti’s editors when he changed its headline. The Bell, another respected business outlet, called his actions “an obscene violation of editorial standards.” The original headline translates as “On paper, the government may lose its majority stake in Rosneft.” Shmarov changed it to “Following a complex deal, the government will keep its majority stake in Rosneft.” When one of Vedomosti’s editors spotted the change, he restored the original headline on the newspaper’s website.

When asked to comment on Shmarov’s change to a published headline and the new chief editor’s justification that headlines are a technicality, deputy senior editor Safronov said, “Technical corrections come up on occasion, of course, but that’s not what happened in this case — here, the change led to a factual error.”

Alexey Golubovich did not answer Meduza’s calls, and when asked to comment, Konstantin Zyatkov said he was busy and would call back later.

Text by Maria Kolomychenko

Translation by Kevin Rothrock and Hilah Kohen

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